Angela Merkel’s visit to London last week has been viewed by many as a snub to David Cameron’s aim to reform the European Union. But it all depends on what one means by reform.
The British prime minister last year promised a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU by the end of 2017. He vowed to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe in the meantime – the idea being that, on the back of such reforms, he would be able to persuade a sceptical electorate to vote to stay in.
If Cameron focuses on subjecting the EU’s treaties to open-heart surgery, he will be disappointed. But if he puts his energy into making the bloc more competitive – something that would be hugely beneficial for Britain – the prize of reform may well be within his grasp.
That much was clear from the German chancellor’s day-trip. She disappointed some British eurosceptics by arguing against “fundamental reform of the European architecture.” She does want revisions to prevent another euro crisis. But, for her, treaty change should be “limited and targeted.”
What’s more, Merkel is only one voice among 28 leaders, albeit the most powerful. Every single country has to agree treaty changes. This means that trying to revamp the treaties to suit the desires of British eurosceptics has zero chance of success.