FRANKFURT AN DER ODER, GERMANY - APRIL 30:  The Flags of Poland (left), Europe (c.) and Germany (r) are pictured as local people attend a joint celebration in the city of Frankfurt an der Oder as they mark Poland's accession to the European Union on April 30, 2004 in Germany. Frankfurt an der Oder and the Polish city of Slubice are located just opposite each other across the Oder river.  (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
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In 2011, Radoslaw Sikorski, then Poland’s foreign minister, declared on a visit to Berlin that he feared German power less than he feared German inactivity. Given the bloody modern history of relations between the two countries, this was quite an admission for a Polish politician to make. It also hinted at a certain reluctance in Germany — for obvious historical reasons — to assume the responsibilities of the hegemon.

Today, Berlin is scarcely more enthusiastic about leading from the front in Europe. And Angela Merkel has recoiled at the notion that, in the age of Donald Trump and “America First”, she is now the leader of the “free world”. Yet, as Philip Stephens argues in his column, things have changed considerably since Mr Sikorski made those remarks, and German leadership has become more important, not less.

The rightwing Law and Justice government in Poland is busy undermining the rule of law, and in so doing chipping away at the fundamental principles of the EU, of which it is a member. Other Eastern European member states, notably Viktor Orban’s Hungary, are also drifting in an illiberal direction. As Philip notes, some in Berlin and other European capitals have considered withdrawing financial support from countries that reject the bloc’s commitment to liberal and democratic values. But whatever course they decide on, “the facts of size, economic power and geography will not go away”. Whether it likes it or not, Germany is fated to lead.

Brexit could shipwreck the British economy: Leaving the EU would be difficult enough in benign economic conditions, writes Martin Wolf. Unfortunately, Britain’s economy suffers from deep weaknesses that Brexit is likely to reveal more clearly.

Get ready to bet against bitcoin: In recent years, the cryptocurrency has been the wild west of the financial world, Gillian Tett writes. But that will change as bitcoin futures are listed — once it is no longer a ringfenced product, the normal rules of investing will apply.

Gove plots to become a great British Brexit chancellor: Amid reports that Michael Gove has his eye on Philip Hammond’s job, Robert Shrimsley imagines the changes he would demand on entering the Treasury — including the hanging of a portrait of pro-Brexit economist Patrick Minford.

The best of the rest

Charlie Hebdo vs Mediapart — a debate inconceivable in Germany — Thomas Wieder in Le Monde

Could Brexit discord lead to the rise of a British Macron? — Adam Plowright in The Guardian

Moore, Trump, and the Right’s New Religion — Charles M Blow in The New York Times

Brexit heartlands want someone else to pay — Jenni Russell in The Times

What you’ve been saying

The Efta/EEA option makes good sense — letter from Tony Orchard in Exeter

“Wolfgang Münchau was right — the only logical way forward is for the UK to make an application to join Efta and stay in the EEA. Mrs Green is also right that this would satisfy the political necessity for leaving the EU without economic massacre.”

Comment from DTM on Anna Nicolaou’s Big Read, McDonald’s flips fortunes with back-to-basics approach

“My wife and I recently rediscovered McDonald’s in retirement. There was a time when we would never take the children there despite protests but now the menu is good value and we always stop for a coffee and a chicken legend or something similar. It’s also noticeable that the coffee (I drink it black) is just as good as Costa or Starbucks and half the price. They have come a long way.”

‘Sufficient progress’ hinges on divorce bill and Irish border — letter from David R Cameron, Professor of Political Science, Yale University

“The question of the Irish border is, as you say, much more difficult than the financial settlement and can’t realistically be resolved without more clarity about the future relationship with the EU. But Ireland has good reason to insist that the UK at least provide an explicit guarantee that its future relationship with the EU won’t require a hard border between Northern Ireland and the republic and won’t disrupt north-south co-operation under the Good Friday agreement. The UK need not agree at this point that, as Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, suggested last week, Northern Ireland, if not the UK as a whole, continue to apply the rules of the EU’s customs union and single market. But if it wants the European Council to conclude at its December meeting that ‘sufficient progress’ toward the exit agreement has been made, it will guarantee that there won’t be a hard border on the island.”

Today’s opinion

Larry Summers’ blog: Productivity still matters for median worker’s pay

Gove plots to become a great British Brexit chancellor
And to that end, he has been learning a lot of complicated economic language

Free Lunch: How foreign investment changed the world
The economic geography of the new globalisation

A bruising Brexit could shipwreck the British economy
It is absurd to suggest that the UK could withstand the shock of worse market access

FT View

FT View: China’s balancing act on debt is becoming trickier
The government must hold its nerve, even as economic growth slows

FT View: A strong City of London is vital for Brexit Britain
The financial sector should be a priority for the May government

FT View: Pharmacies are set for a big dose of Amazon
A complex, opaque and concentrated market could use a shake-up

The Big Read

The Big Read: McDonald’s flips fortunes with back-to-basics approach
In a bloated sector, the fast-food chain has won back customers by refocusing on price and convenience

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