10 Dec 2011

Ten curiosities about David Cameron’s veto

1. Britain has been vocally championing the idea of closer fiscal union for eurozone nations as a solution eurozone crisis with “remorseless logic” for six months now. It started with a George Osborne FT interview in July. The Chancellor said the same thing to me on the Eurostar then.

To do this for half a year, and then pop up with concerns, at 2am during the summit without the support of your allies, does not seem like potent statecraft.

2. There was nothing agreed or proposed yesterday by European nations that mounted any additional threat to the City. The Tobin tax can and will be vetoed separately and was not  mentioned in the EU leaders’ communique (although the even more terrifying word “flexicurity” was mentioned) or even in the Eurogroup leaders’ statement.

3. The prime minister chose to use this moment of high European drama to extract copper-bottomed extra guarantees that Britain could not be outvoted on City matters from future hypothetical attacks.

Mr Cameron was trying, as Ed Conway writes here, to “claw back”, basically obscure, so far unused powers from Brussels, that had no connection to the establishment of closer Eurozone fiscal union.

4. This was, we’re told, to protect the EU single market (fact: the single market was invented by a Brit Lord Cockfield). Yet how is the single market protected by giving one country a special status, legal exemption and voting veto specifically for its favourite “industry”? What about German cars, Estonian Internet companies?

5. These “financial safeguards” for the City were rejected by 26 of 27 European nations, who have nonetheless pushed ahead with everything they had planned in the first place, though in a more legally convoluted way.

6. The euro-plus inter governmental pact will now be negotiated specifically without Britain, which was one of the main concerns briefed by Downing Street beforehand. That is to say, we now have far less say on negotiating the new relationship between euro-ins and euro-outs, which should surely be the number one strategic objective.

7. This is rather helpful to some in the EU who are trying to help Ireland avoid having a referendum, which would surely be lost. The Taoiseach now has wriggle room to avoid one, which would not have been there had it been a full-blown treaty change. So perhaps the PM fell into a carefully laid trap.

8. Sweden’s foreign minister, the respected Carl Bildt, approvingly circulated on Twitter a scathing article by Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform, which included the line: “Sweden [has] grown impatient with the Cameron government”. This doesn’t surprise me. I sensed it when PM Reinfeldt was asked by Jon Snow at the October Summit whether Mr Cameron was being helpful.

But Sweden is a key ally in the EU. Did the PM know that traditional allies in the new eastern EU, freer market Scandinavians, were not going to be on his side?

9. Is the prime minster going to carry through with the veto in practice, and actually scupper elements of the euro-rescue by mounting legal obstacles to the use of EU-27 institutions by the euro-plus-26. ECJ verifying fiscal deficits etc? If not, expect some degree of U-turn.

10. The logical endpoint of the PM’s position is that we should exit the EU and join the European Economic Area. It begins to make sense if he believes the euro is doomed.

To sum up, it appears the PM claimed to have vetoed something that wasn’t there. What, in effect happened, is that he was vetoed, for trying to say no to a hypothetical future threat to an industry he believes needs safeguards, that would probably have preferred at this stage that he stay in the tent to prevent further damage.

Even if you believe 100 per cent  in the argument that protecting the City is an in/out matter for Britain, logically you would have wanted to play your cards in a way that protected City primacy in the Eurozone financial services market, to keep Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, all the investment bank arms here. You would have used the threat of veto to deliver concrete results in conjunction with allies. The main strategic aim: to define the border between euro outs and ins in Britain’s favour.

This is not what happened yesterday. Put simply: what did the UK “win” that justified deploying the tactical weapon of the veto? I haven’t had a decent answer to that yet.

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