Cameron and Merkel eye ‘common agenda’

DAVID Cameron and Angela Merkel today said they would focus on “key issues to advance our common agenda” during talks in Downing Street.

Ed Miliband meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel

The Prime Minister and German chancellor issued a joint statement underlining the partnership between Britain and Germany and outlining plans to discuss the European Union.

Mrs Merkel’s trip forms part of a series of visits to foreign capitals in preparation for the G7 summit which she is hosting in Bavaria in June but Mr Cameron will seek to bolster support for his bid to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU after May’s general election.

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In a joint statement, the Prime Minister and Chancellor Merkel said: “We meet to discuss key issues to advance our common agenda, in particular with regard to the German G7 presidency.

“As partners with growing economies, we must work with our European neighbours, G7 partners and others to secure the global recovery and to ensure that we come out of the financial crisis stronger than we were at the start.

“Our aim is to increase economic growth and create prosperity for our citizens and this will be the focus of our discussions today.

“In the G7, we will jointly address global issues including climate protection and lessons learnt from the Ebola crisis as well as other health issues.

“At the same time, we must do more to make the EU more stable and competitive than it is today. We have both taken steps at home to consolidate our public finances and it is important that we continue to pursue this long-term plan.

“We must do more to harness the potential of the single market and reduce regulation that is hampering business. We must also dismantle further barriers to trade, in particular by agreeing an EU-US trade deal in 2015, which was launched at the UK’s G8 summit in Lough Erne.”

The PM will accompany his opposite number on a tour of the British Museum’s exhibition on the history of her country before talks get under way in Downing Street.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage raised doubts about the chancellor’s willingness to go along with Mr Cameron’s plans for changes to restrict EU migrants’ access to welfare benefits in the UK.

It comes at a time of heightened tension over immigration in Germany, which has seen protests against “Islamisation” in cities across the country.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman played down reports that the European Commission is raising objections to a key plank of Mr Cameron’s renegotiation proposals, which would require EU jobseekers to have an offer of work before coming to the UK.

The commission itself has declined to comment on the Guardian report but the PM’s spokesman pointed out that commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has previously made clear he is happy to discuss Mr Cameron’s proposals.

Mr Farage said that it was “ridiculous” to expect the commission to make an exception for Britain on rules guaranteeing freedom of movement for EU workers. He said Mrs Merkel was unlikely to be willing to help the PM get his way.

“Germany is facing its own problems at the moment and would not want Britain to start turning away EU jobseekers, potentially redirecting them to seek work there,” said the Ukip leader.

Labour’s Europe spokesman Pat McFadden said: “Chancellor Merkel is publicly supportive of Britain’s place in Europe but on her visit to London she will no doubt reiterate to David Cameron that Germany is not willing to bail him out politically at any cost.”

Mrs Merkel is not meeting with Labour leader Ed Miliband - and his office complained to the Foreign Office (FCO) over its failure to warn him in advance of her visit.

But an FCO spokesman said protocol dictated that advance notice was given only of non-state visits when the foreign leader concerned had formally requested to meet an opposition leader, something that was not the case with Mrs Merkel.

A Labour spokesman said: “Ed Miliband recently raised Labour’s agenda for European reform with Chancellor Merkel in a private meeting when she came to Britain to address Parliament, and has done so on other occasions in meetings with the German foreign minister and other party leaders.

“We will let Chancellor Merkel explain to David Cameron how damaging it is for Britain to be dragged closer to the EU exit door by the Conservatives’ actions.”

Senior Tory David Davis said Mrs Merkel needed to be persuaded that the “prospect of us leaving is real, it is not just sabre-rattling”.

“We have got to get across to her that there should be no mutual misunderstanding about this,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He added: “That’s the first thing to get across, that this is not sabre-rattling, this is for real and the changes are material.”

David McAllister, a member of Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, told the programme: “I would always say that Germans are ready to talk to London about British demands in a fair and reasonable manner.”

He added: “No reasonable politician can ignore the fact that during the next five years we will have to find solutions for the political concerns of the United Kingdom. We have to do this if we want to keep the United Kingdom within the European Union.

“So I will work and many others will work for a fair deal with Britain but it must be a deal that accepts the specifities of the United Kingdom in the EU on the one hand while allowing the member states of the eurozone to integrate further.”