16 Jan 2014

Cameron, Europe and the T word

There have been quite a few pieces talking about how David Cameron‘s Bloomberg speech of a year ago, promising a renegotiation of UK membership of the EU followed by an in/out referendum, has turned out to be a failure – today Martin Kettle talks about it as a tactical failure and a foreign policy failure; earlier this week, Janan Ganesh emphasised it as a failure in attempted party management.  Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg Meets With David Cameron

There was, I understand, an alternative approach laid out in front of Mr Cameron in 2011when the Eurozone members wanted to cement their new self-disciplines in an EU-wide treaty. David Cameron said he wanted serious concessions in return. Some EU leaders, including the mighy Chancellor Merkel, suggested a whole new arm to the proposed new treaty which would speed up single market “Anglo-Saxon” reforms in the EU and introduce tougher more immediate penalties for failure, along the lines of the rules being introduced to police government spending etc in the eurozone. EU leaders saw it as a tailor-made proposal that could be sold to the UK by its leaders as a major achievement (they would sell it internally as “closer integration”).

Many of its goals matched the unachieved reforms George Osborne was pining for in his speech at the opening of the Open Europe conference in London yesterday morning. But David Cameron rejected it. He came instead to the EU summit in December 2011 with what EU leaders dismissed as a “carve out for the City of London,” an off-shore Hong Kong-style arrangement for his friends in the banks. That is obviously not how he then or now would characterise the protocol he put on the table in the early hours of that summit. But he travelled a different road, wielded the veto and the the eurozone went off and did its proposed deal via a different route.

One EU Ambassador who was listening to George Osborne yesterday suggested the only way to get any kind of new EU-wide arrangement in the near-ish future would be some kind of compact or inter-governmental deal that did not amount to a referendum-triggering treaty in so many EU member states. Might Messrs Osborne and Cameron be wise to avoid getting hung up on the T word?

Meanwhile, the prospect of a political heart attack at the May European parliamentary elections is looking a certainty for the Tories – The Sun has a YouGov poll speculating on the result today. I’ve heard Tory donors say that David Cameron must start thinking about some sort of pact with Ukip to avoid a divided right at the election. There’s some of that talk in the Mail today. I can’t see how he can do anything of the sort. The question might be how willing he is to turn a blind eye to Tory candidates doing it on an individual basis. Not that that would necessarily transform the party’s fortunes.

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