Monday, October 22 15:54:43
Until recently, German officials tended to down play divisions with Britain when pressed about its semi-detached stance on Europe.
Not any more. Now they tend to make their irritation plain.
"If someone wants to leave, you can't stop them," said one senior German official, summing up a view in Berlin that the door is open if Britain really wants to quit the European Union.
While Angela Merkel has largely overcome Eurosceptic qualms on the fringes of her centre-right coalition, Britain's David Cameron -- never a committed European in Berlin's view -- appears to be bowing to the isolationist instincts of the bulk of his Conservative lawmakers.
"There's certainly a growing feeling among European partners and also in Berlin that Britain is less interested in any new form of cooperation," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "That's a pity, because it is an important partner and we need more integration in the EU."
The latest cause of tension is Cameron's refusal to envisage any increase beyond the rate of inflation in the EU's seven-year budget -- a package worth around 1 trillion euros ($1.2 trillion) -- at a special budget summit due in late November.
Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert denied a British media report on Monday that she had threatened to call off the summit if Cameron persisted. German and British officials have stressed that trade ties are important for both Britain and the EU.
Berlin has long valued London's free-marketeering influence in the EU as a counterweight to France and other southern states that take a more protectionist line and favour state intervention in industry. But Merkel's exasperation at British obstruction tactics may now outweigh such considerations.
A spokesman for Cameron said there had been no communication from Germany regarding the budget summit being cancelled and the prime minister was "willing to do a deal ... so long as that is the right deal for British taxpayers".
But the budget spat risks being a repeat of last year's row on Merkel's "fiscal compact" for budget discipline which Britain refused to join, alone among the 27 EU member states except for the Czechs, who faced a veto by their Eurosceptic head of state.
That was a slap in the face for Merkel, who has long blamed Cameron for taking the Conservatives out of the main centre-right bloc in the European Parliament in disagreement with the European People's Party's (EPP) objective of a "federal Europe".
The Tory exit from the EPP was driven by William Hague, who is now foreign secretary and visits Berlin on Tuesday to discuss the future of Europe with his German peer, Guido Westerwelle. (C ) Reuters