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Merkel — secure, successful, and no flirt

07 March 2014

THERE was something iconic about Angela Merkel's brief visit to Westminster last week. The British media hyped her arrival as a chance for David Cameron to make capital out of an alliance that he has worked hard to form. The visit was staged as though she were royalty, and one peer compared her entrance to that of the Pope.

She made it clear in her speech to Parliament that there is no scope for the wilder fantasies of treaty opt-outs and renegotiation. On the other hand, modest reform is not only possible, but desirable. She looks to Britain to stand with Germany at the heart of Europe, a strong partner in both consolidation and reform.

I found her impressive: she seems comfortable in her skin - as a woman, a German, a European, and a statesman on the world stage. There is no handbagging, no flirtation, no desperation to be taken seriously by the boys. She smiled, but not too much. She seemed absolutely herself in her electric-blue jacket and sensible shoes. Yet she has been, on any reckoning, one of the most successful ever of European politicians, steering the EU towards a difficult consensus at a time both of expansion and financial crisis.

Her visit made me aware of how far the EU and the world have moved on since the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990. Margaret Thatcher opposed that bitterly, haunted by the spectre of a revival of pan-Germanic nationalism.

Now it is often the UK that looks like the spectre at the EU feast, or perhaps, rather, the sulky child who cannot decide whether he or she wants to be there. The jibe that Mrs Merkel views Mr Cameron as a "naughty nephew" does not seem entirely without substance. The reality is that Mr Cameron needs the support of Über-Mutter Merkel even more than she needs his.

We are no longer in the world of Fawlty Towers ("Don't mention the war . . ."). Yet many of us have not quite accepted that fact. UKIP's rising popularity is proof of how far we have yet to grow up.

In her Westminster speech, Mrs Merkel made a heartfelt call to remember the dead of both sides in the conflicts of the 20th century. The four-year-long commemoration of the First World War could be an opportunity for some spiritual reappraisal of our national history, our values, and the faith that both unites and divides us from each other, and from Europe.

The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.

 

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