Juncker’s hard farewell
After an hour and a half, the dinner was over. Juncker’s hard farewell: “I’m leaving Downing Street ten times more sceptical than I was before.” It should have been a late night wake-up call. But because Juncker didn’t have the impression that he had made an impression, he sent yet a second wake-up call the next morning. That’s where the German Chancellor came in. What Angela Merkel says can’t be ignored in London so easily. After all, Berlin is seen as a close ally in the EU.
Juncker and Merkel were due to speak by telephone at 3 p.m. the day after the dinner. On morning television, the Commission head saw that she was to deliver a speech ahead of the upcoming European Council. It was shortly after seven in the morning. He called Maerkel on her mobile to get her up to speed. His message: Theresa May lives in another galaxy, she is deluding herself. Merkel hastily reworked her government statement.
An hour and a half later, the Chancellor stood at the speaker’s lectern of the Bundestag. She spoke first about Turkey, then about the principles of Brexit. Everything was very clear, with three priorities: ensure the rights of Germans in Britain, avoid damage to the European Union, and strengthen the solidarity of the 27. Every point that Juncker had made that evening reappeared: first talk about the divorce, including the financial settlement, then about the new relationship. A third country cannot have the same rights as a member. Then came the new passage: “Dear colleagues, perhaps you think that these are clear, self-evident facts. But I must unfortunately state so very clearly, that I have the feeling that a few British are deluding themselves. That is a waste of time, however.” A few British – meant none other than Theresa May.
Theresa May against the rest of Europe
The message did not fail to have an effect; the British media reported it prominently. They called it Merkel’s “hard-line Brexit speech”. Even May reacted immediately – in a campaign speech in a long-standing Labour constituency. Everyone had heard Merkel’s words, she said. “There will be times, when these negotiations will become tough”, warned May. Her domestic political opponents – meaning Labour – would try, indeed, to disrupt the discussions. “At the same time the 27 states are lining up to oppose us.” Every vote for conservative candidates and for her, would make her stronger at the negotiating table.
Theresa May against the rest of Europe – that is how the Prime Minister wants to attract votes. It is a risky strategy, for her and for Europe. It is highly likely that after the election her majority in Parliament will be so large that Brexit hardliners no longer decide her agenda. But what’s the use if she buys this position by feeding the illusions of the hardliners?
Juncker left London with major concerns. In his entourage, the probability that the negotiations will fail is now estimated at “over fifty per cent”. One hopes that the British will come to their senses and face the uncomfortable reality while there is still time. And that at least business will put more pressure on the Government, since a chaotic Brexit could drag the country into an existential crisis. To communicate these concerns so bluntly is part of the strategy. Sometimes the alarm clock has to ring very loud to wake up even the most sleepy.