Opinion: Nothing can be taken for granted

“If you don’t like being with us, then leave.” It has long been fashionable among continental Europeans to react with demonstrative pride to the constant complaining and requests for special treatment from London. But such reactions have become less audible. The wind in Europe has changed.

Barely anyone today is still pushing for a closer political union. Borderless travel and job opportunities? Many EU countries are re-introducing border controls. Solidarity with countries burdened with debt? Many see the behavior of the Greek government as an exploitation of European generosity. It was a different era when these lofty, idealistic goals were set. It was the era before the financial crisis and, especially, before the refugee crisis.

British positions resonate in Germany
In Germany, too, there’s been a swing in public opinion toward the positions represented by Prime Minister Cameron. Germany now has a Social Democrat minister who wants to limit claims to social benefits for foreigners from other EU countries. It’s only slightly different from what is perhaps Cameron’s most contentious demand for reform.

During the financial crisis, the Germans didn’t fail to notice how isolated they can be in the EU when they demand competitiveness and reforms. Without the British, they would have been lacking a decisive supporter. The Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland were also on their side, but they don’t have quite the same level of influence. And Germany’s traditionally close partner, France, has proved to be opposed to reforms in recent years.

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(German chancellor Angela Merkel, British prime minister David Cameron and French president Francois Hollande at a meeting in Brussels in October 2015. Photo: EC audiovisual service.)