Published on 28 Jan 2013

Reaction to Mr Cameron from an ally

President Obama mentioned “Europe” precisely never in his inaugural speech last week. Should we read anything into it?

I was in Italy at the weekend attending an Italian security and economic briefing. According to one of Italy’s most senior security strategists, Italy’s view was that Europe had to start seriously thinking about its  own security integration in the face of American withdrawal.

The United States is not only cutting its forces, it is also reorienting its entire posture toward its very present economic and strategic interests centred on the Pacific.

Italy has a fine tradition of peacekeeping, currently with 7,000 troops in the field, many of them in Lebanon. The country is strategically close to north Africa – Libya, in particular. The Italians view the building tension in north and west Africa – from northern Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, to Algeria – with alarm.

With all the key EU states cutting their military budgets, our Italian strategist argued Europe needed to be pooling resources to make good the American withdrawal. For example, the French could not have got their heavy equipment into Mali without a massive heavy-lift programme undertaken by the Americans.

Given the projection that literally hundreds of thousands of people are likely to be rendered homeless by the coming wars, there is a real danger that they will try to flood into Europe in huge numbers.

Our man argued that this was the moment that these pooled resources would be needed to safeguard borders and prevent mass uncharted immigration. It’s not an exercise the Americans would have much interest in undertaking.

The age of freelance American wars into whose slipstream Europe is often very reluctantly drawn would appear to be drawing to an end. But threats around Europe, from the eerie dictatorship in Belarus to instability in our neighbouring continent of Africa, urge some degree of re-thinking.

That raises questions about Nato,  organisation which our informant had worked for at a high level. He described it as a bloated Brussels bureaucracy whose true role, in the aftermath of the  war in Afghanistan and the of the messy Libyan, is bound to be in question.

Virtually every Italian speaker expressed criticism of last week’s Europe speech from David Cameron. Comments ranged from “delusion” to “despair”. Italy sees the UK as a natural ally when in comes to relations between the “big four” in the EU – Germany, France, the UK and Italy herself. Rome finds comfort in Britain’s membership.

One phrase summed up how the Italians present felt about the speech: “bad for Britain, bad for Europe”. I should mention too that a CEO or two were there from very large  multinationals. They added: “bad for business”.

I noticed several diplomats present at the conference. Perhaps word of its content may reach Whitehall ears.

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18 reader comments

  1. Mudplugger says:

    It’s not America’s job to defend European nation states, even less so since the demise of the big mutual threat from the East, so reductions in US forces, and costs, should be expected and accommodated.

    However, when Obama seeks to interfere in Britain’s realtionship with the EU, he first needs to ask himself this – would he be happy with 80% of the USA’s laws and most regulations covering the economy, trade and finance being formulated by an unelected cabal of bureaucrats based somewhere in South America ?

    His answer would be a firm “No”. So why does he think ours should follow that pattern ? Butt out, big boy.

    1. jon snow says:

      As a matter of fact Mudplugger..Brussels is a little nearer UK than Latin America is to Washington is nearer than Edinburgh! And the total number of ‘bureaucrats in the Eu is 20,000 at one time fewer than in our own Defence Ministry.

    2. Mudplugger says:

      Sorry, Jon, you’ve been interviewing politicians too long – you’ve answered a different question.

      It’s not the numbers of the unelected, unaccountable and corrupt cabal nor their distance away – it’s the hypocrisy of Obama ‘forcing’ onto Britain a delegation of its sovereignty which neither he nor any future US President would ever dream of accepting for their own nation.

      If he thinks the EU is so good, why doesn’t the USA join it ? They don’t need to, as long as they’ve got their ‘poodle puppet’ UK on board.

    3. Andrew Dundas says:

      Hello Mudplugger,
      Would you prefer that the EU “Council of Europe’ were elected instead? Our government is part of that Council and has a veto over it’s policy decisions. An elected Council would be harder for our UK government to control. Which might be why UK Governments prefer the existing arrangement.

      As for the USA’s influence, it was a condition of their life-saving Marshall Aid that european countries speak peace to each other and remove the thicket of conflicting barriers to trade. The EU was the main result of that US prescription. The Soviet zone rejected trade co-operation and capitalism.

      Would you have preferred the UK to have taken the Soviet option instead?

    4. Mudplugger says:

      I really don’t want to elect anyone to European cabal or quango, as I don’t want to offer any oxygen of faux-legitimacy to their ilk.
      I only ever want to elect a government for the UK to manage the forward strategy of the UK for the benefit of the UK.
      Looking to mainland Europe is akin to driving using only the rear-view mirror – the future is elsewhere, as was already obvious to 33% of us in 1975 when we (correctly) saw it all coming and tried to get off the EEC Bus to Nowhere.
      Free trade is good, in fact free trade is the key to global development beyond the borders of the old world. Britain should be in the lead, exploiting the core advantages we have of traditional links and language, to establish the UK as a primary source of premium services across the world – but that’s exactly what the rest of the EU fears most and why they need to stop us doing it. The EU needs us far more than we have ever needed, or will ever need, the EU.
      Europe is a permanently declining market-share, the rest of the world is a permanently growing one – where do you want to be ?

  2. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    Why does Rome find comfort in the UK membership?

    The big four reminds me of the second world war stories.

    Isn’t the bloated Brussels beaurocracy exactly one of the reasons why we want to renegotiate conditions with Europe.

    Don’t some of the big investors want free trade?

    Our we frightened that free trade will encourage more than we bargained for?

    1. jon snow says:

      I’m not sure where this bloated bureaucracy comes I’ve mentioned to Mudplugger – it’s 20,000 administering a single market with 27 Members interfacing with many world trade entities etc We can practice free trade with people beyond the Eu..we do so with new Zealand, australia, Canada and indeed America. But 48% is with Europe.

  3. Peter Sutcliffe says:

    Jon, you and your Channel 4 News colleagues are heading to the top of the pop charts!

  4. Philip Edwards says:


    Ah, I see……you attended a “…security and economic briefing.”

    Did the “presenters” explain when in newscasts to use the terms “rebels,” “free army” and “intervention” (as in Libya and Syria) in independent countries the West wants to destabilise, as opposed to “Islamists” and “Jihadists” in countries where the West is thieving natural resources (as in Mali and Algeria, and, funnily enough Libya and Syria when the tide turns) but not “invading.”

    Best be careful. Lest week you must have caused consternation in the control room when accidentally you said “French invasion of Mali.” Did that nice Mr de Pear have a word with you? Did ms. Hilsum and messrs. Rugman and Miller get their briefings too? And where ARE those weapons of mass destruction and chemical weapons?

    Remember, Jon: “what doth it profit a man if……….”

  5. felix thorne says:

    The speech Cameron made on Europe is bad for the UK.
    He’s scared of some in his party and of UKIP (an overrated bunch of little Englanders).
    We belong in Europe, in NATO and should remain close allies of the United States.

  6. Bob says:

    Do you not think withdrawing from the E.U. will have a very negative effect on trade within Europe and permanently damage trade relations. What then? Surely the back pages of the economist put the biggest minuses with the U.S. and U.K. perhaps Obama’s suggestive stance on Europe is the right one and the is why the rest of Europe agree. Regardless of how many policies serve the U.K. better or worse than our European counterparts pulling out of the E.U. would be a P.R. disaster that would permanently damage our trade links within Europe. Surely this would be worse than the current situation???

  7. Philip says:

    I’d also like to challenge one of the time-honoured phrases of the “eurosceptics” (i.e. people who want to leave the EU) – that of decisions taken by an “unelected cabal of bureaucrats”. For a start, it’s at best misleading – mostly untrue. Decisions in the EU are taken by councils of Ministers, representing the Member States – not by the European Commission. The Commission may make proposals & may introduce subordinate legislation, but only in line with laws agreed by elected Ministers. Just to make it clear – EU legislation is decided by elected representatives from each Member State. Of course, the UK doesn’t always get a majority (& Cameron’s tactics have virtually guaranteed we have no allies on most matters). But that’s democracy for you. I guess most voters in the UK have suffered a Government they didn’t vote for and whose policies they object to. That’s democracy for you. The “unelected officials making laws for the UK” is one of the classic anti-EU lies which has been left unchallenged for so long, most people believe it.

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      Be assured Phillip, few people really believe that “unelected officials making laws for the UK” is true. It’s just newspaper balderdash. All UK statutes are determined by Parliament.

  8. Moonbeach says:


    There is no evidence that our trading position with the EU members would change one jot if we left this moribund, totally undemocratic organisation.

    Trade is a 2-way street. Are you seriously saying that countries would boycott UK if we left? Cosy politicians and so called business leaders wanted us to join the Euro! Why should they think they are right this time?

    With regard to the 20000 EU Civil Servants, what is their added value to UK over our own bureaucrats? They mostly service the unessential, overpaid MEPs! They will never get agreement on important issues. There are simply too many interests involved. So we will end up with everyone in Europe getting what nobody wants. The CAP is a prime example of what is to come.

    The EU project was a bad idea that frightened politicians failed to think through. A massive European State is doomed to failure. Ask the Scots, Welsh, Irish, Basques, Kosovans, Serbs and many, many more about how it feels to be a minority in a bigger state?

    The French being dictated to by the Germans would be amusing but hardly a recipe for stability!

    1. Philip says:

      If we leave the club, why would they continue to allow us free acces to their markets (48% of our trade)? Our stated reason for leaving is to improve our competitiveness, so why would they allow us to undercut them, without at least imposing their normal third country trade barriers? It’s not a matter of boycotting us;. But Investment by Japan, China, etc in the UK is largely predicated on UK membership of the EU. There’s a fair chance that Honda, Toyota, etc will develop their next generation of cars in, say, Poland. “Moribund” is a stupid adjective to apply to some of the strongest economies in the world – like Germany & some of the growing Eastern European economies.
      The EU bureaucrats don’t service the MEPs. By and large they are either working on legislation for the Council of Ministers or supervising the expenditure of EU money. Oddly enough, thanks to some of these bureaucrats, the EU has reached agreement on a vast number of matters – e.g. the Single Market. Despite the doommongers, the Euro seems not to have fallen apart.
      We have a completely deluded idea that leaving the EU will free the UK from a mass of constraints (most of which we’ve happily accepted) &, like Popeye we’ll receive a great can of spinach which will allow us to punch above our weight in the world. We’re a small country, with much of our industry foreign owned, saddled with immense debts and a creaking infrastructure -with a workforce that needs supplementing by a regular influx of migrant labour. If anyone’s moribund, it’s the UK!

  9. Sam says:

    Just watched the report on Marikana report. It’s good that Channel 4 reported that. But imagine how different the headlines and emphasis would be if the mine was owned by a Chinese. company. Definitely “Chinese-based (owned)” would be mentioned more than once.

  10. Steve Willis says:

    We don’t need a European Union to have a European Free Trade Community. It’s time to remove the drive towards political union and go back to the better principles of a free trade bloc.

    I suspect the EU is more concerned about plugging the funding gap if the UK leaves. It’s unfair to expect Germany to pick up the extra spend, but without it political union fails.

    Perhaps, we’ll see a grassroots push by the European electorates to seize back their national identities, kicking out the political fat cat elite, to focus upon free trade across the European Community (which is what I voted for back in 1975).

  11. Meg Howarth says:

    Some excellent comments on here – pro-EU – which I heartily endorse. Disappointed with Ken Clarke’s performance on BBC R4 Today this a.m. With friends like these, etc. He sounded as if he were throwing in the towel.

Comments are closed.