Tuesday 13 December 2011

EU in Britain: When David comes marching home again... (Updated)

Before discussing if the decisions of the European summit were enough in the face of increasing headwinds, I published one more assessment of the EU politics of the UK government led by Cavid Cameron.

Having read the prime minister's statement, I wondered (on Twitter):

Would #Cameron statement stand 10 minutes of scrutiny by young solicitor's clerk first day on the job? #UKpolitics #euro

Cameron's public reasons

Cameron described his demands to the other EU members:

Those safeguards – on the single market and on financial services – were modest, reasonable and relevant.

We were not trying to create an unfair advantage for Britain.


Irrelevant: First of all, Cameron's demands were not relevant to the issues at the European summit and these issues figured nowhere on the agenda.

Immodest and unreasonble: Springing totally irrelevant demands on the EU leaders, could Cameron even imagine that they would be accepted? Was this his 'good faith'?

How can he call proposals to roll back the internal market to decision-making based on unanimity, modest and reasonable?

Qualified majority voting replaced unanimity in 1966 in the common market, and without this step there would be no internal market today (imperfect as it is).

Loss of credibility: There are only two major EU policy areas, where the United Kingdom has been a visible driving force. One is the internal market, the other is (never-ending) enlargement.

Unfair exception: If no unfair advantage was intended, why did Cameron require the introduction of a new national veto on a specific part of the internal market (financial services)?

How are special exceptions for Britain compatible with the 'level playing field' he asks for, the the very soul of the internal market, including competition rules and enforcement?

Wouldn't you expect president Sarkozy to bemoan the the lack of proper protection, sooner than the premier of free market and free trade Britain?


Update 13 December 2011: In the European Parliament Commission president José Manuel Barroso said that one member state, the United Kingdom, 'asked for a specific protocol on financial services, which, as presented, was a risk to the integrity of the internal market. This made compromise impossible'.

This has been contested by the lobby group Open Europe on Twitter and with a link to their blog post on the matter:

Read our latest blog post explaining why #Barroso was wrong to suggest Cameron's demands threatened the single market

Barroso has the advantage over Open Europe and me that he was there, and one leaked paper does not necessarily tell the whole story, but I think that added clarity would not go amiss, so I have tweeted:

@OpenEurope Hopefully #EUCommission #EUCouncil & member states open up what #Cameron sprang on #EUCO and how. bit.ly/uHG6Tn

Let us wait and see what we learn during the next days.


Symbolically and at a practical level, David Cameron shot decades of UK credibility as a champion of the internal market to pieces. Apply the flexibility of a network to the single market, and what do you end up with?

'Some would call' was the formula, based on internal assessment.

Some would call this a disingenuous statement about an unprincipled blackmail operation gone wrong, despite the jingoistic hero's welcome indicative of the political climate in England.

Fall-out in Europe

The other EU members hoped that the UK would accept and ratify a treaty fix, which would have enabled the euro countries to enshrine their agreement on budget discipline, without affecting non-euro Britain. For the UK, simply to allow it to happen. Cameron chose to be unhelpful.

Some commentators have explained that Cameron had no choice, because he could not face the House with such a simple request. Besides being fairly self-indulgent, what does that tell us about the prime minister?

If sorting out the problems in the eurozone was Cameron's main wish (and most definitively in the interest of Britain and its banks), his actions made it harder to achieve.

He made even Britain's closest EU allies furious, and the looming political and legal problems they have to contend with in an intergovernmental setting are numerous. (This does not mean that the other leaders minus Britain achieved more than a tiny proportion of what is needed.)

Cameron returned without the safeguards he ostensibly was looking for. Internal market rules, including financial services, are still agreed at EU level, but after losing friends, influence and people, it is going to be harder for the United Kingdom to influence the outcome of future negotiations.

Fall-out at home

As I see it, Cameron launched his political blackmail operation to pacify his secessionist backbenchers. They have succeeded in turning the UK's sour EU relations toxic, scored a victory with the anti-EU mass market press and public opinion, revealed Cameron's dependence on them and devastated the Liberal Democrats. So the taste of blood will egg them on, instead of placating them.

Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are in a terrible bind. It looks as if they would be all but annihilated in a new general election, but swallowing the latest grave humiliation until the end of the parliamentary term will only bring a stay of execution. Is it worth the pain to grin and bear?

Scotland got one more reason to contemplate independence.

Businesses generally and the financial industry are worried.

Bottom line?

If helping the eurozone and defending Britain's interests were the aims of Cameron, how do you assess the outcome?

Cameron in House of Commons

The BBC provides both a video report of the Cameron statement and the debate in the House of Commons and interviews, as well as a live blog dealing with the fall-out from the UK walk-out.

There are many interesting comments and a number of helpful links to further reading.

If your intellectual curiousity drives you, try to find the references to the needs of the European Union and EU citizens, or for constructive contributions from its member state Britain.

Then think about why national level polities with veto powers are perhaps not the best level or form to promote common European interests, which in my view are those of EU citizens.

Ralf Grahn

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