‘Cameron’s red carpet reeks of desperation’

Angela Merkel’s visit to London shows how much more David Cameron needs the German Chancellor than she needs him. Until Thursday, her trip was ignored by the German papers who accuse the British press of “hyping” the visit.

'Cameron's red carpet reeks of desperation'
Photo: DPA

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The British may be rolling out the “reddest of red carpets” for Merkel – tea with the Queen, an address to both Houses of Parliament – but for the chancellor this is not even the most important foreign visit of the week.

That came on Monday and Tuesday, when she took members of her cabinet to Israel and stayed overnight. Compare that to her UK tour which will last six hours.

Merkel will be given virtually every possible honour in London on Thursday and the trip is a great moment to show how strong the UK-German relationship is. But the problem Cameron faces is Merkel simply cannot deliver the EU reform he wants and needs and she has little interest in doing so.

Both want a more competitive EU and Germany does not wish to see the UK leave the 28-member bloc.

But Merkel is not prepared to make concessions to Cameron in order to make his life easier. Come 2017 when there may or may not be a referendum in the UK on EU membership, Merkel will have finished her third term.

Europe depends on balances of power but in this relationship Merkel seems to be holding all the cards.

Nothing puts a person off like the smell of desperation. Cameron’s red carpet reeks of it.

Compare tea with the Queen and speaking before both Houses of Parliament to the visit of French President Hollande at the end of January. He got a pub lunch in Oxfordshire.

READ MORE Analysis & Opinion from The Local here

'Nothing is free in London'

The lack of importance attached to Merkel’s visit in Germany is reflected by the domestic press which only started covering it on Thursday. And that coverage has not been favourable to the British who have been accused of “hype” and having unrealistic expectations.

For the Süddeutsche Zeitung the British Prime Minister “can’t show enough how important he is to her”.

Meanwhile, the Spiegel wrote: “Cameron is sparing no expense to win the Chancellor round to EU reforms but Merkel is following her own agenda.”

“The opulent programme” is designed to impress the guest from Berlin, it said. “But nothing is free in London.”

“In return for nice photos with the Queen, Cameron expects support for his EU reform.”

It also accused Cameron’s Conservative Party of overestimating Merkel’s influence in the EU. “All 27 states would have to agree to Cameron’s treaty change and the majority of them have little interest in that,” it noted.

“Cameron wants more than Merkel wants to give”, ran the headline in Die Welt on Thursday.

It accused the Conservative coalition government of having “unattainable expectations”.

“The difference in expectations around the visit on the two sides of the Channel could not be more different,” it said.

It also noted how the British press had been building up the visit for weeks, while German papers are leaving the job to their London correspondents rather than sending extra journalists to cover the trip. 

SEE ALSO: British Embassy cordon could be lifted after 11 years

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.