Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The German crisis gets worse and what it means for Brexit

Isn't it fascinating how governments can lose authority seemingly overnight and then stumble from crisis to crisis? So it's been here and so it now is in Germany.

Yesterday's news was that Merkel's most important foreign policy adviser, Christopher Heusgen, who only recently became Germany's ambassador to the UN, used his influence to get his wife a job there. Commentators are wondering whether Merkel personally intervened to assist.

Interesting enough but in a further topical twist this news came from a leak by Fancy Bears, the Russian hackers who gave us the low down on Bradley Wiggins's therapeutic use exemptions. So the Russians continue to destabilise western governments. How unsurprising. And the Western governments don't actually seem to need much help on that score anyway.

Heusgen sent an amazing email to the UN Secretary General, even specifying the appropriate pay grade:
"If you consider which contribution Germany renders to the UN, it could be attractive for you to have someone in your staff (at the salary level P5, which as I understand is appropriate for Ina [Heusgen's wife]), which has both: a direct connection to the chancellor's office and to the office of the foreign minister (and to Germany's future UN ambassador [referring to himself], who has the ambition to sit in the security council in 2019/2020."

Frau Heusgen didn't get that post, but she did bag another at the UN, albeit funded by the German taxpayer. I learned this from the Eurointelligence blog - it doesn't seem to be on our mainstream news media yet.

And what does Mutti Merkel's difficulty in forming a government mean for Brexit? Jacob Rees-Mogg and other Tory Brexiteers have got all wound up, thinking it changes whether we should reduce rather than up the ante on our EU divorce settlement. Setting aside the obvious fact that we shouldn't give in to blackmail and agree to pay money up front without any commitment on the future relationship, I can't see why the German situation makes much difference myself. Eurointelligence agrees, saying it would only come into play if the German crisis goes on into the spring, in particular if new elections lead to another impasse. At that point the EU might decide it can only handle one politicial crisis at a time. Though they do say that "A hard Brexit shock, while worse for the UK than for the EU, will end the economic recovery in the eurozone, which is so important for its stability."

So we are not without cards in the negotiation, we just don't seem to have the gumption to play them properly. Though it may be that David Davies is actually playing a game of "chicken" - brinkmanship in the run up to the next big round of Eurotrash (sorry I mean the European Council meeting on 14 -15 December) as we are indicating we will pay more, but won't make a formal offer until the EU agree to talk about trade. So the EU will have to decide whether to stick to its guns on resolving the three priority issues before the negotiations broaden.

Of the other two issues, citizens rights always seemed the easiest to solve, though the EU insistence on continuing involvement of the ECJ is a problem for me as well as many others.

The third issue has also been in the news, with the DUP's Arlene Foster joining me in telling the Irish  republic to button it* over the border issue (see Don't Walk Away Renee, 17 September). I've been struggling from the outset to see how the soft Irish border issue can be resolved without a hard border within the UK or between Ireland and the EU, but can conceive that the UK's suggestion of an electronic system is workable, given that is how customs declarations are apparently made now. While I won't accept the Ireland tail wagging this dog of a negotiation, the real problem is that the EU has set the negotiation up to fail by insisting that the Irish border issue is resolved before the trade and customs arrangements are even discussed, a ridiculous catch 22.

I guess we'll see in December if the EU actually want the negotiation to fail, as posited by Yanis Varoufakis (also in post of 17 September), or whether they blink. We mustn't, if only because our political crisis - I couldn't see May surviving Tory backbench outrage at a large unconditional financial settlement - would then trump Germany's.

In the meantime we can at least indulge in schadenfreude about Merkel and the Germans. How appropriate that wonderful German word has "eu" in the middle.

For both news items on Germany, see the Eurointelligence blog for 21 November at

*Irish PM should know better over Brexit, says Arlene Foster:

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