30 Jan 2012

Brussels and Westminster wondering what that veto was about?

“There are a lot of people in Brussels scratching their heads about that British veto,” an EU source just said to me. And no wonder. William Hague this morning on Radio 4 said Britain would not stand in the way of the fiscal compact countries using the European Court of Justice (although the UK reserved the right to take the matter to court in the future if they thought the compact countries had gone beyond the understanding).

I’m in snow, strike-bound Brussels but talking to Tory MPs back in Westminster it’s clear a few of them are asking the same question. There isn’t normally a prime ministerial statement after an informal European Council like this one but one Tory MP told me he was sure there would be an attempt to table an urgent question and drag Mr Cameron to the Commons. “He’d better explain quickly,” one Tory MP said, “or he’s going to get his backside kicked.”

Tory MPs will also be at the 1922 Committee meeting of backbenchers in heavy numbers on Wednesday as there’s a 3-line whip running that afternoon. on the welfare reform bill. One Tory MP said that Iain Duncan Smith was lobbying hard behind the scenes against the latest concession and was considered a “fire-proof,” unsackable minister. William Hague’s arguments on the radio this morning were “far too nuanced” I was told by one MP.


But the fact that William Hague was making those arguments will be enough for some Tories. We are not where we were in early December when there was a sulphurous, mutinous air amongst some Tory MPs. But there is some stirring and grumbling.

What we’re actually here for is something billed as an EU “Jobs and Growth” summit. The European Commission is taking the opportunity to fanfare “billions” of unspent EU money which it wants to spend to boost jobs and growth … but some countries hotly dispute if that money really exists in the quantities advertised. The meat of the issue in Europe is, of course, still an epic debt reduction drive that is by definition all about getting governments to cut back on spending and shed jobs in hundreds of thousands.

Euro viceroy

The Greek saga is at the heart of those concerns but not strictly on the agenda for today. The European Commission was horrified when Germany’s one page memo to other EU members leaked out to the FT on Friday. The call for a European Commission viceroy to take over the Greek economy looked too ad hominem and brutal but, as the Luxembourg PM just said on his way in, the EU is on the way to getting a general rule like that written into its laws anyway.

The fiscal compact should be signed off in outline any minute now. It’s about hard-wiring into constitutions, laws and fines a system of Eurozone economic rules that have actually been around and much ignored since the Euro was first imagined. It is about giving reassurance to Germany that eurozone countries really have turned a corner and are, in a few years’ time, going to be worthy of Germany fully standing by them.

It’s probably worth mentioning that although there are headlines blowing around about the Irish, amongst others, saying they won’t be able to sign up to the fiscal compact without a referendum, the drafters of this particular treaty have got wise to problems like this and have said it can go ahead even if some (only 12 in the fifth draft) of the 17 eurozone countries sign up.

Update: Actually, no need for an Urgent Question. The PM, I’ve just been told,┬áhad already decided he was going to make a statement to the Commons.

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