The politics of external pressure

“What we have today is a story based on speculation about what (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel might have said about something (British Prime Minster) David Cameron might say in the future,” said David Davis, a prominent Conservative member of Parliament, in London on Sunday. So no big deal, then? It’s a very big deal: Merkel is pulling the rug out from under Cameron. For all his tough talk about renegotiating the terms of Britain’s membership in the European Union, she is saying, he has no cards in his hand. At the EU summit on Oct. 25, Cameron said that changing the existing rules that guarantee freedom of movement for workers within the EU would be “at the very heart of my renegotiation strategy for Europe.” No, said Angela Merkel, it won’t work: “We have the basic principle of free movement. We won’t meddle with that.” In other words, if Cameron doesn’t like the membership rules, tough. He can hold a referendum if he wants, and leave the EU if he wins. But there’s no way he can get the other 27 members to change the basic rules of the organization just to solve his little political problem at home. In fact, Merkel will even try to ensure that Cameron loses next year’s British election so that there is no referendum on Britain’s EU membership. Being an experienced politician, however, Merkel delivered that part of her message in a deniable way. It was officials from Merkel’s own office and the German foreign ministry who briefed the newsmagazine Der Spiegel on her plans in that regard. They were not to be quoted by name — and it was left to the rest of us to figure out what her words would do to Cameron’s re-election chances. Cameron has recently been talking about imposing “quotas” on low-skilled people from other EU countries moving to Britain, in a desperate attempt to get around the EU rules. “Should Cameron persist (in this quota plan), Chancellor Angela Merkel would abandon her efforts to keep Britain in the EU,” Merkel’s officials told Der Spiegel. “With that, a point of no return would be reached.” Shape up or ship out. Merkel has launched a counter-strike that may well bring Cameron down. By making it crystal clear that his “renegotiation” strategy cannot work, she is effectively telling British voters that if they re-elect Cameron’s Conservatives next May, they will be voting to leave the EU. The election itself becomes a referendum on EU membership — a referendum that she obviously thinks Cameron will lose. She is probably right. For all the fulmination in the British right-wing press about the country being overrun by immigrants from poorer EU countries, public support for EU membership in Britain is higher than it has been since 1991. It is still only a modest 56 per cent, but that is a lot higher than the 44 per cent support that the same Ipsos MORI polling organization found only two years ago. The truth is that only 13 per cent of Britain’s population is “foreign-born,” exactly the same as the immigrant share in the population of the United States or Germany. The immigrants are not taking British jobs: the U.K. has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe. The problem is perceptions — and particularly the perceptions of those who normally vote Conservative. The right-wing media in Britain, as in most countries, pander to the nationalism and the fear of foreigners that is rampant among the older and the poorer sections of the population. Too many foreigners coming in, living off our taxes and stealing our jobs is a simple (though rarely an accurate) explanation for why this section of the population feels marginalized, so this narrative works well with them. Britain is pulling in more EU workers than usual because its economy is doing relatively better than Germany, France, Spain, etc. The numbers are not overwhelming, but under EU rules Britain has no right to bar them, so anti-EU nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment have grown into a stronger force than usual — but only on the right. Cameron belongs to the grown-up majority in the Conservative Party, and is not personally anti-EU. But the emergence and explosive growth of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), tailored to appeal to the anti-immigrant-and-EU vote, has panicked the right wing of the Conservative Party. Cameron has had to move further and further right to placate them and compete with UKIP, so he can no longer afford to be sensible about the EU. Merkel has understood this, and has effectively written him off even though she is a conservative herself. Her strategy now is to force Cameron into an openly anti-EU stance, split the right-wing vote in Britain evenly between the Conservatives and UKIP, and open the way for Labour to win the election. Because that’s the only way she can see to keep Britain in the European Union. Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

“What we have today is a story based on speculation about what (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel might have said about something (British Prime Minster) David Cameron might say in the future,” said David Davis, a prominent Conservative member of Parliament, in London on Sunday.

So no big deal, then?

It’s a very big deal: Merkel is pulling the rug out from under Cameron. For all his tough talk about renegotiating the terms of Britain’s membership in the European Union, she is saying, he has no cards in his hand.

At the EU summit on Oct. 25, Cameron said that changing the existing rules that guarantee freedom of movement for workers within the EU would be “at the very heart of my renegotiation strategy for Europe.” No, said Angela Merkel, it won’t work: “We have the basic principle of free movement. We won’t meddle with that.”

In other words, if Cameron doesn’t like the membership rules, tough. He can hold a referendum if he wants, and leave the EU if he wins. But there’s no way he can get the other 27 members to change the basic rules of the organization just to solve his little political problem at home.

In fact, Merkel will even try to ensure that Cameron loses next year’s British election so that there is no referendum on Britain’s EU membership. Being an experienced politician, however, Merkel delivered that part of her message in a deniable way.

It was officials from Merkel’s own office and the German foreign ministry who briefed the newsmagazine Der Spiegel on her plans in that regard. They were not to be quoted by name — and it was left to the rest of us to figure out what her words would do to Cameron’s re-election chances.

Cameron has recently been talking about imposing “quotas” on low-skilled people from other EU countries moving to Britain, in a desperate attempt to get around the EU rules. “Should Cameron persist (in this quota plan), Chancellor Angela Merkel would abandon her efforts to keep Britain in the EU,” Merkel’s officials told Der Spiegel. “With that, a point of no return would be reached.” Shape up or ship out.

Merkel has launched a counter-strike that may well bring Cameron down. By making it crystal clear that his “renegotiation” strategy cannot work, she is effectively telling British voters that if they re-elect Cameron’s Conservatives next May, they will be voting to leave the EU. The election itself becomes a referendum on EU membership — a referendum that she obviously thinks Cameron will lose.

She is probably right.

For all the fulmination in the British right-wing press about the country being overrun by immigrants from poorer EU countries, public support for EU membership in Britain is higher than it has been since 1991. It is still only a modest 56 per cent, but that is a lot higher than the 44 per cent support that the same Ipsos MORI polling organization found only two years ago.

The truth is that only 13 per cent of Britain’s population is “foreign-born,” exactly the same as the immigrant share in the population of the United States or Germany. The immigrants are not taking British jobs: the U.K. has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe. The problem is perceptions — and particularly the perceptions of those who normally vote Conservative.

The right-wing media in Britain, as in most countries, pander to the nationalism and the fear of foreigners that is rampant among the older and the poorer sections of the population. Too many foreigners coming in, living off our taxes and stealing our jobs is a simple (though rarely an accurate) explanation for why this section of the population feels marginalized, so this narrative works well with them.

Britain is pulling in more EU workers than usual because its economy is doing relatively better than Germany, France, Spain, etc. The numbers are not overwhelming, but under EU rules Britain has no right to bar them, so anti-EU nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment have grown into a stronger force than usual — but only on the right.

Cameron belongs to the grown-up majority in the Conservative Party, and is not personally anti-EU. But the emergence and explosive growth of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), tailored to appeal to the anti-immigrant-and-EU vote, has panicked the right wing of the Conservative Party.

Cameron has had to move further and further right to placate them and compete with UKIP, so he can no longer afford to be sensible about the EU. Merkel has understood this, and has effectively written him off even though she is a conservative herself. Her strategy now is to force Cameron into an openly anti-EU stance, split the right-wing vote in Britain evenly between the Conservatives and UKIP, and open the way for Labour to win the election.

Because that’s the only way she can see to keep Britain in the European Union.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

So no big deal, then?

It’s a very big deal: Merkel is pulling the rug out from under Cameron. For all his tough talk about renegotiating the terms of Britain’s membership in the European Union, she is saying, he has no cards in his hand.

At the EU summit on Oct. 25, Cameron said that changing the existing rules that guarantee freedom of movement for workers within the EU would be “at the very heart of my renegotiation strategy for Europe.” No, said Angela Merkel, it won’t work: “We have the basic principle of free movement. We won’t meddle with that.”

In other words, if Cameron doesn’t like the membership rules, tough. He can hold a referendum if he wants, and leave the EU if he wins. But there’s no way he can get the other 27 members to change the basic rules of the organization just to solve his little political problem at home.

In fact, Merkel will even try to ensure that Cameron loses next year’s British election so that there is no referendum on Britain’s EU membership. Being an experienced politician, however, Merkel delivered that part of her message in a deniable way.

It was officials from Merkel’s own office and the German foreign ministry who briefed the newsmagazine Der Spiegel on her plans in that regard. They were not to be quoted by name — and it was left to the rest of us to figure out what her words would do to Cameron’s re-election chances.

Cameron has recently been talking about imposing “quotas” on low-skilled people from other EU countries moving to Britain, in a desperate attempt to get around the EU rules. “Should Cameron persist (in this quota plan), Chancellor Angela Merkel would abandon her efforts to keep Britain in the EU,” Merkel’s officials told Der Spiegel. “With that, a point of no return would be reached.” Shape up or ship out.

Merkel has launched a counter-strike that may well bring Cameron down. By making it crystal clear that his “renegotiation” strategy cannot work, she is effectively telling British voters that if they re-elect Cameron’s Conservatives next May, they will be voting to leave the EU. The election itself becomes a referendum on EU membership — a referendum that she obviously thinks Cameron will lose.

She is probably right.

For all the fulmination in the British right-wing press about the country being overrun by immigrants from poorer EU countries, public support for EU membership in Britain is higher than it has been since 1991. It is still only a modest 56 per cent, but that is a lot higher than the 44 per cent support that the same Ipsos MORI polling organization found only two years ago.

The truth is that only 13 per cent of Britain’s population is “foreign-born,” exactly the same as the immigrant share in the population of the United States or Germany. The immigrants are not taking British jobs: the U.K. has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe. The problem is perceptions — and particularly the perceptions of those who normally vote Conservative.

The right-wing media in Britain, as in most countries, pander to the nationalism and the fear of foreigners that is rampant among the older and the poorer sections of the population. Too many foreigners coming in, living off our taxes and stealing our jobs is a simple (though rarely an accurate) explanation for why this section of the population feels marginalized, so this narrative works well with them.

Britain is pulling in more EU workers than usual because its economy is doing relatively better than Germany, France, Spain, etc. The numbers are not overwhelming, but under EU rules Britain has no right to bar them, so anti-EU nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment have grown into a stronger force than usual — but only on the right.

Cameron belongs to the grown-up majority in the Conservative Party, and is not personally anti-EU. But the emergence and explosive growth of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), tailored to appeal to the anti-immigrant-and-EU vote, has panicked the right wing of the Conservative Party.

Cameron has had to move further and further right to placate them and compete with UKIP, so he can no longer afford to be sensible about the EU. Merkel has understood this, and has effectively written him off even though she is a conservative herself. Her strategy now is to force Cameron into an openly anti-EU stance, split the right-wing vote in Britain evenly between the Conservatives and UKIP, and open the way for Labour to win the election.

Because that’s the only way she can see to keep Britain in the European Union.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Just Posted

Westerner Parade draws crowds

Red Deerians line downtown streets to enjoy annual Westerner Days kick-off

Trudeau poised to shuffle, retool cabinet with focus on Liberals’ team for 2019

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau will shuffle his front benches Wednesday to install… Continue reading

Aecon Group joint venture wins Enbridge Line 3 replacement contract

TORONTO — Aecon Group Inc. says its joint venture with Robert B.… Continue reading

Conservative party pulls attack ad of black man walking over Trudeau tweet

OTTAWA — The Conservative party pulled an attack ad from its Twitter… Continue reading

Groundbreaking ceremony held for new international bridge

DETROIT — U.S. and Canadian officials touted the friendship between the two… Continue reading

Oilers sign first-round pick Evan Bouchard to entry-level contract

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers have signed defenceman Evan Bouchard to a… Continue reading

Lab-grown meat could be in restaurants in 3 years

BERLIN — A Dutch company that presented the world’s first lab-grown beef… Continue reading

Duchess of Sussex wears dress by Calgary’s Nonie to Mandela exhibition

CALGARY — A fondness for Canadian fashion apparently hasn’t waned for Meghan,… Continue reading

Destiny’s Child singer Williams seeks mental health help

LOS ANGELES — Destiny’s Child singer Michelle Williams says she’s seeking help… Continue reading

A Comic-Con without Marvel, HBO gives others a chance to pop

Over 130,000 pop culture devotees are descending on San Diego’s Gaslamp District… Continue reading

Record 10 homers as AL wins All-Star Game 8-6 in 10 innings

American League 8 National League 6 (1o innings) WASHINGTON — A record… Continue reading

Photos: Red Deer barn dance entertains children, adults Tuesday

Hundreds of Central Albertans started their Westerner Days celebrations early with an… Continue reading

Man suffers critical injuries, Red Deer police arrest woman in pedestrian crash

A man is in hospital with critical injuries and Mounties have arrested… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month