German chancellor Merkel to deliver historic speech to Britain's parliament

LONDON (AFP) - German chancellor Angela Merkel will make a historic speech to Britain's parliament on Thursday before holding EU talks with Prime Minister David Cameron and having tea with Queen Elizabeth II.

Dr Merkel is expected to speak in German when she addresses lawmakers from the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the first time a chancellor of a reunited Germany has addressed both houses.

She will also meet with Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat chief Nick Clegg before rounding off her visit with a trip to meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

But the eyes of Europe will be trained on her meeting with fellow Conservative Cameron.

The British prime minister is rolling out what the British press called the "reddest of red carpets" for Dr Merkel in a desperate bid to win support in his fight to reform the European Union ahead of a possible referendum on Britain's membership in 2017.

Despite Dr Merkel's general sympathy towards Mr Cameron's views and the pair's good personal relationship - reported to have been bolstered during a Cameron family visit to her country home last year - experts warn that he is unlikely to extract any meaningful concessions.

"Merkel is caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand she would like to help Cameron out of the corner, as Germany wants Britain in rather than out," explained Mr Almut Moeller of the German Council on Foreign Relations thinktank.

"But in effect, her real game is the euro zone and therefore she will not keep Britain in the EU at all costs. And the rest of Europe will listen carefully to what she says in the British parliament."

According to Thursday's London Times, Dr Merkel will back freedom of movement for workers within the single market, but will echo Mr Cameron's concerns over so-called "benefit tourism".

Mr Cameron hopes to win over voters in the country's in-out referendum by securing reforms that would dilute Europe's influence over domestic policy, but is finding support hard to come by.

Mr Gunther Krichbaum, chairman of the commission on European affairs at Dr Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, told the Guardian that renegotiating treaties was "definitely not an option."

The 90-minute lunch talks are also expected to address EU-US trade talks and the identity of the next European Commission chief following Jose Manuel Barroso's departure in 2015.

Mr Cameron is hoping for a like-minded appointment, but the Times reported that Dr Merkel was about to back former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who Britain fears may be too federalist.

"This isn't a meeting where they will be going through people's biographies, but you could expect them to discuss the kind of qualities they are looking for in a commission president," a British official told the Financial Times.

Dr Merkel's speech to members of both chambers of parliament is the first by any German leader since president Richard von Weizsaecker did so in 1986.

US President Barack Obama and French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy are among the other foreign leaders to have spoken to the Houses of Commons and Lords.

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