David Cameron. Photocredit: World Economic Forum, http://www.flickr.com/photos/worldeconomicforum/5397056071/sizes/m/in/photostream/
David Cameron has refused to sign up to a new European Union treaty, involving all 27 countries, on the grounds that it would guarantee the City of London sufficient safeguards. A handful of other countries (Czech Republic, Sweden, and Hungary) have also not signed up to it, but they will put the question to their Parliaments and are expected to agree. Commentators are entirely split on the issue, with some saying that it’s the worst possible decision that could have been made, and others saying that it’s a step in the right direction. Most agree that it’s disastrous for Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat Leader, and the future of the Coalition. The effect on business is unclear. The Prime Minister is due to face Parliament over the issue this afternoon.
It isn’t even a veto. Bagehot in The Economist said that though Britain hasn’t walked out of the EU, it has “started falling out.” Britain is arguing that the fiscal pact involving 23 other countries shouldn’t be allowed to use the organisations belonging to the 27 – “the European Commission, the European Council or the European Court of Justice.” But Cameron hasn’t even used his veto – that would mean stopping something from happening. He hasn’t done so – he’s actually lost. Cameron says he’s defending Britain’s long-term national interests; in the “immediate term”, he’s rejected this treaty “because he was not sure he could get it through the House of Commons.” Eurosceptics in the British Conservative party divide into two camps – moderates, who believe Cameron should get rid of “hand-wringing Euro-Quislings” and “renegotiate” membership of the single market; they are “guilty … of excessive optimism.” The other Tory camp wants Britain “to be Switzerland with nuclear weapons.” Switzerland’s deal isn’t that great anyway – they have to accept regulations without any say in order to protect their banks’ secrecy. And as for the City of London – what if all the banks said that they were leaving Britain anyway and heading for “Paris, Frankfurt, Zug and Singapore?”
It’s not good for the Coalition. Marina Hyde in The Guardian said that the decision is “Not Good,” but that she was also “in many more minds than the Conservative party “ about it all. But what about Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats? It’s definitely not good for him. He’s been performing so many U-turns: tuition fees; now on the European referendum and the Tobin tax (financial transaction tax). Yet he always used to bang on “about the folly of British standoffishness.” So where the heck will the Liberal Democrats’ next manifesto go? Major areas of embarrassment include “planks of what used to be called Liberal Democrat policy, such as Europe and education.” Will we see “[B]lank pages? Something nice and inclusive about fish?” Now we have to “hope that the banking system holds up and the euro survives. Otherwise we might all be burning old Lib Dem manifestos just to keep warm.”
At least we can get rid of Clegg. Too right, said Simon Heffer in The Daily Mail – after Clegg’s “lack of enthusiasm”, an “ideological chasm” has opened up within the coalition. Bang goes “collective Cabinet responsibility.” It’s “hardly surprising”, though, since Clegg can’t “see any wrong in the misjudments, corruptions and idiocies of the EU.” His Europeanism may come from his family: Dutch mother, Spanish wife, Russian, German and Ukrainian antecedents. He’s entirely happy for Brussels to dictate to Britain, thinking that everything proposed is “inherently worthy of support.” His “humiliation” this afternoon “will be profound”, as he endures the cheers of Eurosceptics. The Lib Dems have nowhere to go – they can’t ally with an incoherent Labour; still less stay with the Tories. If the Lib Dems break the Coalition, it would “precipitate” an election in January “that the Tories would win.” Mainstream British public opinion is behind Cameron. Cameron should “call his bluff”, and then we might “remove the tiresome Nick Clegg from our horizons for good.”
Cameron’s majorly wrong. On the contrary, said Will Hutton in The Guardian: Cameron’s done the worst thing he possibly could. “Do we really want to live in a country designed solely for Cameron’s tribe?” The Tories are wrong about this policy, as they usually are in matters of foreign policy.
Cameron was right but the consequences aren’t good. If only John Major had used the veto in 1992 and blocked the Maastricht treaty that led to the euro, said David Wight in The Times – a project “whose fundamental design flaws have now left the European Union facing an economic and existential crisis.” We should congratulate Cameron for protecting financial services; but actually, it’s “causing collywobbles in the Square Mile and beyond.” The City is “extremely vulnerable to ill-judged, or malign, new rules from Brussels.” Whilst Britain’s always been “a very effective negotiator”, what’s happening now might mean that its position will “be undermined.” Cameron’s managed only to make tackling the “short-term crisis more difficult”, and will be blamed if it goes wrong. We’re at a “fork in the road”, and what’s happening next will be “very bumpy.”
It’s not so bad. Many people, said Boris Johnson in The Daily Telegraph, must be “a bit spooked by the vitriol of the criticism” coming from Europe, and even the BBC, which speaks “in sepulchral tones” of our isolation and marginalisation – “as if a decision had been taken to abandon us in our misty island like a bunch of woad-painted savages.” But the Europeans aren’t really angry because of the summit; actually, many PMs have vetoed things not in Britain’s interests – Thatcher on the EU budget; Tony Blair on “the withholding tax.” What they’re really angry about is that “we have been proved completely right about the euro.” Monetary union won’t work without political union; and political union is “not democratically possible.” It wasn’t the British bankers who caused trouble – it was France’s failure to observe Maastricht; the Greek’s inability to reform. Now Greece and Italy have “effectively deposed” their leaders to save the euro – and it isn’t working. Cameron shouldn’t commit Britain to something “intellectually, morally and democratically bankrupt.” The best thing would be if the Greeks, and others, made “an orderly exit” from the euro. There are so many things that the EU could do that it hasn’t – we “are telling the Greeks that Brussels must … run their economy – and yet we can’t even agree on a common European standard for plugs.” Now we’re worried that Europe will “punish” the City of London – but that problem hasn’t “been made any worse by this summit.”
It’s a step in the right direction. Norman Tebbit in The Guardian‘s Comment is Free said that Cameron “has taken the first step towards a solution to the euro mess and a better European structure.” Now there must be “one or more European republics”, made up of countries with similar enough economies and attiudes to “enable them to accept the rough and smooth of a complete political union and a single currency.” They’d have one vote each; then there would be a “new overall treaty” which would restrict the union’s powers “to matters of free and open trade”, and with machinery for “matters of common interest such as pollution and migration.” But that’s down the road – and before then, Britain may even have left the EU entirely.
More on Eurozone woes
- The end of the world as we know it
- Cameron’s veto – will it leave Britain out in the cold?
- Britain’s future dim?