Angela Merkel will get red carpet as David Cameron seeks EU allies

Merkel will be given the rare honour of addressing both houses of Parliament – the first German leader to do so for 27 years – and will have an audience with the Queen

Nigel Morris
Friday 21 February 2014 23:06
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be visiting London next week
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be visiting London next week

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, will receive the red carpet treatment during a visit to London next week as David Cameron seeks her support over renegotiating Britain’s membership of the European Union.

Ms Merkel will be given the rare honour addressing both houses of Parliament – the first German leader to do so for 27 years – and will have an audience with the Queen.

Mr Cameron, who will also hold talks with her in Downing Street, is keen to win her backing for his reform plans because of Germany’s dominant influence within the 28-member bloc.

Mr Cameron met the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whom he regards as another potential ally over reshaping the EU, at Chequers, his country house residence.

The Prime Minister has announced plans to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU and put it to a referendum by the end of the 2107 if the Conservatives win the next general election.

During a chilly encounter last month, the French President François Hollande told Mr Cameron that rewriting the treaties that underpin the EU was not a priority for his country.

But Mr Cameron will hope for a much more sympathetic hearing from Ms Merkel, with whom he has a warm personal relationship.

British officials believe there is emerging common ground between London and Berlin over the need for EU reform, particularly over limiting freedom of movement between member states.

The two leaders will also discuss whom they would support as the successor to Jose Manuel Barroso as the European Commission president.

Britain believes the Dutch would also be sympathetic to a drive to ensure as much sovereignty as possible remains with national governments rather Brussels. Mr Rutte’s government last year said its approach was based on the principle of “European where necessary, national where possible”.

As Mr Cameron stepped up his efforts to win foreign sympathisers for his EU vision, he found himself under domestic pressure to debate it with British political leaders.

It came as Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, accepted a challenge from Nick Clegg to a live debate over Britain’s membership of the EU.

The Liberal Democrat leader had called for the clash to take place ahead of the European Parliamentary elections in May. Several broadcasters are understood to have already expressed their interest in hosting the confrontation.

Mr Farage urged Mr Cameron and Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, to join them in the studio.

But a spokesman for the Prime Minister said he was focusing on the economy, the crisis in Ukraine and the aftermath of the flooding emergency. He said: “Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg have agreed to have a debate with each other. Let them get on with that.”

A senior Labour source said its priority was to arrange a pre-election debate between Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband as they were the “two potential Prime Ministers of the country”. He added: “After that is agreed, anything else will be a matter for negotiation.”

Mr Clegg had issued the challenge in an appearance on his LBC 97.3 radio phone-in programme. He called Mr Farage to “a public, open debate about whether we should be in or out of the European Union”.

The Ukip leader responded yesterday: “I have absolutely no choice. I’ve got to say ‘yes’ because we need to have a national debate on what I think is the most important issue this country has faced.

“The answer is yes, I will do it with Nick Clegg, but the other two, I’d like to see them there as well.”

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