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March 21, 2017

Is Merkel going to say something?

Angela Merkel’s indecision is now the major topic of conversation in German politics. She is wildly admired by liberals abroad as the supposed leader of the western world, an accolade usually expressed by people very far removed from the inside track of German politics. What is noticeable at the moment is the total absence of a campaign against Martin Schulz, who is dominating the airwaves and building momentum. Also absent is a firm response to the daily outrages from Turkey. 

On the former, Merkel and her strategists had hoped to entrap Schulz in the molasses of the grand coalition, and take away his single greatest appeal - his ability to lead a member of the coalition without being involved with its policies. Schulz has declined all invitations to coalition meetings, on the grounds that he had more important things to do like attending summer parties, a response that has left the CDU both speechless and without an alternative strategy. Merkel has now hired Joachim Koschnicke, Opel's chief lobbyist and her former political adviser, as a special strategic adviser for the upcoming election campaign, which shows that her internal party apparatus is current not up to scratch. We believe that this will change, but for the moment Schulz has the momentum. 

Merkel is also, cautiously, trying to address the problem of repeated Nazi comparisons from senior Turkish politicians, including of course Tayyip Recep Erdogan. She said yesterday that, if these insults continued, Germany would have to ban Turkish political meetings on its soil. But she was only speaking after a massive increase in domestic political pressure.

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March 21, 2017

On how to think about Brexit and defence

Sophia Besch offers a very sensible analysis on how to think about Brexit and European defence co-operation. Britain’s contribution to European defence has the characteristics of being simultaneous a threat and a promise. Besch makes the point that the smart strategy is to treat it as a promise, and to avoid threats. We could not agree more.

“Crude blackmail would not work, and thankfully seems unlikely in any case. It is true that some Brexiters are asking why British troops should risk their lives for EU member-states that want to impose a ‘punitive’ Brexit deal on the UK. But May knows that any open threat – for example to withdraw troops from NATO deployments in Central and Eastern Europe if Poland or the Baltic states dig in their heels over freedom of movement for their citizens – would not just be unhelpful, but would also lack credibility.”

She notes that May has invested political capital in bilateral relations with European allies, citing the example of a Polish-British summit last December, during which May promised the stationing of British troops. We also noted a report in the FT that the UK defence ministry was working on a joint statement with their German counterparts on their future defence co-operation post-Brexit. 

Besch is more critical of UK attempts to act as a bridge between the US and the EU. If the EU agrees to more defence spending, then this will not be because they want to impress Trump - on the contrary, they will want to hedge against the US reducing its exposure to Europe, an area to which the UK can contribute.

Her conclusion is that common defence is in the interest of both sides.

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