Angela Merkel is married, but not to Mr Merkel. She gave the man who gave her a last name the boot, way back in 1981. Then, she was still a PhD student in East Berlin, hunkering down over quantum chemistry textbooks. Her husband, Ulrich Merkel, had spent three years doing up their apartment there while supporting her through the final years of her lengthy education. But one day – almost wordlessly, apparently, she packed up all her things into a few meagre suitcases and left. It was textbook Merkel – brutal yet clinical, a very low-wattage assassination. Except for one curious detail. In the midst of this moonlight flit, she found time to take the conjugal refrigerator.
This is what David Cameron was up against when he stepped into a Brussels meeting room last Thursday night: the sort of woman who, when she leaves her husband, takes the fridge with her. Mrs Thatcher may have walloped Jacques Delors with her handbag, or given Frank Mitterand a taste of her acid tongue, but she had principles: she wasn't the kind of lady who'd walk off with your cooling system in the middle of the night.
No doubt Dave is petrified of the dead-eyed crone: that imperious blankness, that lumpen, savage waddle, that DeLonghi acquisitiveness. “She took the refrigerator, sir.” The civil servants probably briefed him pre-Eurozone conference, “This is what we're up against here.”
“You are fucking kidding me,” he no doubt replied. “What sort of woman ditches her husband and lets his milk go off at the same time? I mean, Gaddafi: 50 female bodyguards and a bedouin tent outside the UN, fair enough. But this – this is just so fucking bizarre…”
Perhaps part of the reason the Merkozy partnership works so well is that, unusually for those in high office, they are both divorcees, able to commiserate with each other about how 'it's like a death in the family', fully capable of kvetching about their battle scars, and well-versed in the realpolitik of love and the bitterness of happy endings.
Sarkozy is already on wife number three. Wife number two he fell in love with while she was walking down the aisle to meet another man. Far from shouting out that he knew of a reason why this man and this woman should not be joined in holy matrimony, he kept his trap shut at the time, then spent four years reeling her in: gradually convincing actress Cecilia to ditch her TV presenter husband and shack up with him, conveniently forgetting that he too still had a wife of his own. Then, having won his trophy at such a high price, it took only eight years for him to grow tired of it again: they separated in 2005. This is the other thing Cameron is up against: a gnome who can't see that 'walking down an aisle in a wedding dress' means 'taken'.
The French President has been flagged as the ringleader of Britain's tormentors, but as re-election looms, he could well be out on his ear in six months' time. In the longer term, it's the strength of Europe's public feeling towards the UK that will be making the rod for both the French and German backs. Unfortunately, we are not popular. More unfortunately, of all the European powers, it is the Germans who have by far the least overall respect for our yellow teeth and pink gin way of life. When The Guardian took a survey earlier this year, 33 percent of the French said they admired the British. But only 25 percent of Germans could say the same. Twenty-four percent of Spaniards think we're 'characterised by honesty and integrity'. Only 17 percent of Germans think the same way – honestly, what was it about us blowing up their towns that they didn't like? With sad irony, our biggest fans are the ones we have the most open scorn for: Poles – only 12 percent of them think we're a negative influence on the EU, compared to 24 percent of the French.
If only Poland, with its stoic leadership and cheery optimism about Britain's place, were a nation of a hundred million people and the fourth biggest economy on the planet, then we'd be closer to Blair's “Britain at the heart of Europe”. As it is, our most consistent negators are there, and they are led by a lumpen white goods thief. David Cameron no doubt pondered all of this with some alarm, as he woke after two hours sleep at 8:15 Friday morning, his hotel room ceiling swimming blearlly into focus, his tired brain gradually recalling who he was and what he'd been up to last night.
Illustration by Joss Frank
Previously: Quango - Snout on the Future