Richard North, 19/12/2013  

000a Reuters-019 Merkel.jpg

I have been nothing if not consistent in saying that we must wait until Angela Merkel settles down after her election before we hear about her plans for a new EU treaty. And here we go, at her very first Bundestag address after her re-appointment as German chancellor, she is talking about EU reform and indicating that a new treaty is needed.

This comes just as the Financial Times was predicting that Germany and the eurozone would go to great lengths to avoid giving Cameron the leverage (for renegotiation) he craves, with a re-write of EU treaties before 2017. In one senior EU official's words, we were told, "Nobody wants to give the keys to the UK".

But this discounts the fact that what Mrs Merkel has in mind will require a fully-fledged treaty convention, which puts the negotiations out of Mr Cameron's reach. Yet he is still pushing for his fatuous referendum and is prepared to use the "nuclear option" of the Parliament Act to force the EU Referendum Bill into law before the next election. This is a complete waste of time.

And despite Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and his (oft repeated) prediction that the Franco-German partnership that has steered Europe for 60 years "has finally broken down", Merkel jetted off to Paris yesterday to meet President François Hollande, declaring the start of "a new era". Said Merkel, "We want to work together to advance to Europe and make Europe a strong continent in the world".

Says Merkel's new Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, "The friendship between Germany and France is unique, the partnership between our countries irreplaceable". He wants, he says, to "kick start the Franco-German motor".

With EU treaty reform all over the German press, even the Daily Telegraph has managed to pick up the news, although it misreads the situation and calls it a "boost to David Cameron", and a warning to the French President. In fact, it is neither.

For all the prattle, it has been clear for some time that Merkel would go as far as she could without a new treaty, but it then emerged that she would then go for broke. With the recent agreement on a banking union, she has gone as far as she can, and has now put down her marker for a new treaty.

The next step will come in the early spring, when the Barroso publishes the Commission's proposals for a new treaty and, by the late autumn, we will see the announcement of the date for the start of a treaty convention – unless great events wreck the timetable. So far though we are bang on schedule, with Merkel acting entirely as expected (and predicted). 

We are one more step closer to a new treaty.

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