Merkel Meets Pledge to Disappoint All Sides in U.K.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel began her speech to the British Parliament by telling her audience that she’d come to disappoint them. As she made her opening remarks -- in English -- lawmakers applauded anyway.

With Britain’s political parties and even its coalition government split on whether to have a referendum on exiting the European Union, Merkel said her intention was to avoid swaying the debate either way as she acknowledged the “very special expectations” placed on her speech.

The occasion was the first address to both houses of Parliament by a German leader since 1986, and the first by the chancellor of a reunited Germany. Almost the only reaction during her speech was the traditional parliamentary rumble of “Hear, hear!” signifying consent, when she said that Germany wanted a “U.K. with a strong voice inside the European Union.”

That’s the stated policy of all three main parties, even of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives, who are pushing the referendum.

Earlier, as the audience of lawmakers and other dignitaries waited for Merkel to arrive, an attendant told them how to use their headsets. “Channel One is the English channel, and Channel Two is the German channel,” he said. “Hear, hear!” shouted one lawmaker, to laughter.

Reichstag Architect

Introducing Merkel, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow alluded to historical strains between the two nations when he pointed out that the rebuilt German parliament building in Berlin, the Reichstag, had a British architect.

“I’d like to think that were we ever to reach the point where we need to improve upon the Palace of Westminster, we would be similarly open-minded,” he said.

Wartime enmity is never far away when Britons consider Germany, even if accompanied by admiration of German manufacturing prowess. The Royal Gallery, where Merkel spoke, bears reminders of the historical links between the two nations before the 20th century and its two world wars. High on the wall behind the chancellor was a full length portrait of one of Germany’s most successful exports to Britain: George, elector of Hanover, who in 1714 became King George I.

When he was French President, Charles De Gaulle was invited to speak elsewhere in the palace. One reason is thought by historians to be the main feature of the Royal Gallery: two large tapestries commemorating the defeat of Napoleon’s navy at Trafalgar and his army at Waterloo.

These was no such difficulty for Merkel: the Waterloo tapestry shows the British general Wellington meeting the Prussian Field Marshall Bluecher, whose intervention in the battle swung it against the French.

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