Brexit Bulletin: Eyes on MerkelBy
German chancellor said to be wary of hurting Prime Minister May
European Parliament ally sounds more upbeat after London meeting
When it comes to working out how tough the European Union is going to be on the U.K., the position of German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pretty central.
It’s significant then that, while the country’s diplomats have repeatedly struck a hard line during Brexit meetings in Brussels, Merkel herself is said to be more pragmatic. Merkel is wary of pushing Prime Minister Theresa May too hard for fear of weakening her so much that she falls and is replaced by an arch Brexiteer, according to Bloomberg’s reporters in Berlin.
That might explain Merkel’s softer language than some were expecting at October’s EU summit. It might also have had some influence on one of her chief allies in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, who, after meeting with May on Wednesday, said he was more encouraged than previously about the chances of a positive breakthrough.
“I saw today that there’s willingness to go further; there is a willingness to contribute to a positive outcome,” Weber said after the meeting in London. Britain has a “credible” position and “there are good arguments on the table from both sides,” he said.
That’s quite a dramatic shift from the day before, when he played down the chances of a deal in time to move onto discussions about a future trading relationship at the EU’s December summit because, he said, “we have no clear readiness from the London side to commit to further compromises.”
Merkel doesn’t have complete sway on the Brexit negotiations, of course, and her strength is diminished after a bruising election (and pointedly, she’s missing an informal meeting of EU leaders in Gothenburg, Sweden, this week as she focuses on coalition-building back home). But across the bloc there’s still a tendency to follow her way of thinking. That’s why Brexit Secretary David Davis is in Berlin today as the shuttle diplomacy in the run-up to December’s crunch summit continues, although there are no plans for him to meet with the chancellor.
Nevertheless, with four weeks to go until the summit, the overriding mood in Brussels is still one of pessimism. The EU says the U.K. still needs to make a better offer on the contentious divorce bill. Britain has so far offered about €20 billion, which is about a third of what the EU says it owes.
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When Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visited the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator in July he presented him with an Arsenal Football Club shirt with the Frenchman’s name emblazoned on the back.
But perhaps rugby is more his game. Barnier on Wednesday used his official Twitter account to welcome the news that France would stage the prestigious Rugby World Cup in 2023.
The race to be named host country had become an acrimonious and drawn-out battle that had at times descended into bitter personal recriminations and disputes over reputations and money. Where have we seen that before?