Opinion: What Cameron should be doing in Brussels

[Ed:This article was written late last night, albeit before details of Prime Minister’s veto emerged from Brussels emerged.]

When David Cameron arrived in Brussels last night for the pre-Summit dinner of EU leaders, he may have sensed a certain frisson in the room. He missed out on the earlier gathering of most EU Heads of Government, who are members of the EPP (Christian Democrat) Euro-parliamentary group and held their own important caucus. Until Cameron became Tory Leader, the British Conservatives were members of the EPP, but in a blatant ploy to get backing from Euro-sceptics among Tory backbenchers, he pledged that he would withdraw from the group, which he duly did, marginalising not just his party but Britain in the process. The right-wing grouplet which then coalesced round the Tories, including some particularly unsavoury specimens from central and eastern Europe, has been something of a laughing stock ever since.

But Cameron’s positioning of Britain on the fringes of Europe’s centre of gravity is no joke. For much of the noughties, the Germans were begging the Brits to become a part of a triumvirate, who would be the real movers and shakers in an ever expanding Union. But instead, the Germans are left to share the steering role just with France. It’s no use the Press in this country bemoaning the fact that the Germans and the French are ruling the roost. We could have been in there as well, but yet again missed the chance. Angela Merkel will doubtless grudgingly offer her cheek to Cameron for a symbolic peck, but at heart she’d prefer to slap him.

Of course, the Prime Minister of Britani should stand up for this country’s interests. That’s what all EU leaders do. But there are acceptable ways and means of doing it. Succumbing to the xenophobic urgings of the Conservative Europhobes, as Cameron has given every sign of doing from his recent public utterings, is the exact opposite of what is needed. The Prime Minister should show real leadership and tell the likes of Tory MEPs Daniel Hannon and Roger Helmer to put a sock in it – or kick them out. Trying to steal UKIP’s clothes only helps UKIP.

There is no doubt that Europe is going through a difficult crisis, especially the 17-member eurozone. But that is not a reason to try macho posturing aimed mainly at pleasing the readers of the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.

Vowing on the eve of his departure for Brussels that he would veto any EU economic or fiscal changes that could endanger Britain’s interests, the PM was trying to sound like Mrs Thatcher at the height of her power. But let him be warned that he will look pretty foolish if he tries to swing a handbag at the EU Summit. Moreover, he is a lesser figure than the Iron Lady was. And let’s be honest, Britain is a lesser country now than it was in 1979.

Protecting Britain’s interests will not be achieved by driving the country firmly into a second tier or even a third tier of EU membership, while the core sort out their immediate problems and get on with the business of forming a powerful economic bloc that will be able to compete on equal terms with the United States and China, as well as emerging economies such as India and Brazil. Britain needs to be at the heart of Europe and to prove itself to be a constructive partner in the European project, even if it remains outside the eurozone for the foreseeable future (though I agree with Michael Heseltine than one day we will be in there, though it won’t be on our own terms).

The Liberal Democrats, as the junior partner in government, can and must play a pivotal role in drumming some sense into their Conservative big brother. To an extent, Nick Clegg and some of his colleagues have been doing that. But the moment has now come where LibDems have got to pin their Euro-colours firmly to the mast and tell David Cameron and his colleagues to stop being so short-sighted and – let’s be blunt – downright offensive to our continental allies. Their goodwill is vital to our future economic survival, as well as theirs.

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59 Comments

  • Oh dear. William Hague says the lib dems signed up to the veto. Is this true?

  • Well, ‘Dave’ wielded his handbag on behalf of the “City’…..

    Listening to the “Tory Eurosceptic Voices’ on the ‘Today’ programme it seems, rather than appease them, he’s revitalised their demands for more….Perhaps in his ongoing pandering to, in your words,” the xenophobic urgings of the Conservative Europhobes” he might have remembered Kipling’s words….

    “And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
    But we’ve proved it again and again,
    That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
    You never get rid of the Dane.”

  • The party I joined, voted for, and was lied to by, at the last election has collaborated in the destruction of the British university system, in the end of all possibility of electoral reform, and in the destruction of the National Health Service. They are now standing watching the destruction of our relationship with the European Union in order to protect the casino which destroyed our economy. I am utterly ashamed of my folly in giving them my support.

  • Jenny Barnes 9th Dec '11 - 9:23am

    “frisson”???a sudden, passing sensation of excitement; a shudder of emotion; thrill??

    I think you mean “froideur”. I know, French lessons are hard. But “coldness” would work, too, and then everyone would know what you mean.

  • Keith Browning 9th Dec '11 - 9:24am

    Vetoes on Europe

    All our naval forces in the Falklands

    Anti-French and German foreign policy

    Pro the rogue state of Israel

    Which century are we living in?

    Who wants to be part of a country with small minded attitudes to the rest of our 6 billion fellow citizens on the planet. I think I’ll take my chances and book a place on a Virgin Galactic spaceship to that new ‘earth-like planet they discovered this week.

    Lib Dems wake up and say something, even do something.

    Clegg and co – your silence is deafening.

  • Andrew Thomas 9th Dec '11 - 9:27am

    I’m fuming. Nick Clegg had no right to agree to this. He has ignored the party policy on this. We demand a say on this. This should be the end of the coalition. Our party should never be associated with this little England viewpoint. Please can someone explain how we can call this decision in!!

  • Keith Browning 9th Dec '11 - 10:09am

    Murdoch setting the agenda again and getting what he wants.

    Sky News was unable yesterday to find one spokes person with pro-Europe views and their ‘debates’ were between journalists, politicians and financial experts who all seemed to think Victoria, Churchill and Thatcher are still alive and well and running the country.

  • At what point is the Eurozone just going to turn around to the UK and say “please close the door on your way out”?

  • Bill le Breton 9th Dec '11 - 11:34am

    Have I woken up an Owenite this morning? (ref Owen on the Today Programme)

  • Bill le Breton 9th Dec '11 - 11:48am
  • jedibeeftrixPosted 9th December 2011 at 9:01 am
    ……………………….What the consequences of this fantasy, are you willing to turn to the British public and admit the price, the loss of sovereignty, involved in joining France and Germany at the helm of europe?…………

    Having lived in France for over 10 years I can only say that my French friends find all such utterances (straight from the “Daily Mail” opinion page) absolutely risible.

    …………………………No, what the Lib-Dem’s need to decide is whether it is a pointy-headed europhile pressure group seeking influence in a consensual political system, or a hard-headed political party seeking a public mandate in an adversarial political system………..

    “pointy-headed europhiles”??? It is the LibDems’ pro European attitude that has been a major factor in recruiting/retainingthe support of many of us.
    “a hard-headed political party”??? Why bother to be a party? If all we have become is a ‘wing’ of “Cameron’s Coalition” let’s join the Conservatives and bolster the ‘caring’ side.

  • There is a time where principle has to over-ride political expediency and it seems to me that most of us were there a long time ago. How long can the leadership claim “national interest”, when most supporters and friends have told them the opposite. A refusal to look at alternatives isn’t strength its stupidity and I cant help thinking that a heavy price will be paid both in historical and electoral terms.

  • David Allen 9th Dec '11 - 12:34pm

    OK, clearly it’s terrible for the UK to be so isolated. I hate the coalition, I hate the banks, isn’t it obvious what to post on this blog? Well, no actually. I’d rather wait for some financial experts to tell us whether people are right to argue that Cameron didn’t have much option. It isn’t good to be in thrall to the City, but if in fact that is where we are, best we recognise it.

    Then again I see Peston’s view is that the UK issue is small beer, the only important thing is that the eurozone has failed to solve its problems and will likely collapse:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16109444

  • Bill le Breton 9th Dec '11 - 12:38pm

    Protectionism and Fascism, Andrew.

  • ……….The lesson learnt from the Great Depression is that economic crisis causes protectionism………

    And that protectionism causes isolationism. We have just taken a first step owards that isolationism from our European partners….
    The Eurosceptics in the coalition are already claiming that this ‘first step’ must lead to a referendum. Our stance has widened a gulf which will lead to a massive complication in running the E.U. In the future there will be moves to ‘re-simplify’ each of which will further isolate the UK….
    All this will please those who believe that the UK’s future lies outside the European family. I’m just so saddened that it wasn’t just a right wing Tory administration that did it; ‘Take a bow’ Nick Clegg!

  • “Financial Services Minister Mark Hoban said that the proposals, “were not one-way traffic,””Some of the rules would benefit London, such as a reform to make cross-border trading in a wide range of assets easier.””Pan-EU supervision would also ensure a level playing field for British financial firms operating across the bloc so there is consistent application of rules”, he added.

    Are you seriously contending that would happen here? To all intents and puposes Ireland went ‘bust’ and the government is completely reliant on emergency funding from Europe and the IMF, which is given subject to their terms and conditions.

    Yes!

  • @Andrew Tennant
    “it would simply motivate the sector to move abroad and cripple our economy.”

    The only thing that is likely to revitalise our economy is if the City moves abroad and stops leaching off the productive UK economy. It’s quite clear where Cameron’s priorities lie – in protecting those that created this mess.

  • @Andrew Tennant
    Two very easy questions to answer.

    1. “Would anyone like to outline how the UK economy would be stronger without a financial services sector? ”

    Money (created by the Bank of England and the Fractional Reserve banking system) is used to trade goods and services between individuals and organisations in the economy (in both the public and private sectors). To create an efficient economy, it is necessary to ensure that money flows to people that create wealth through productivity and fulfilling need (either in the public or private sectors). The money the City takes comes from the rest of our economy (and other economies it deals with). The question any economist would ask is: ‘does the money the City takes from the rest of the economy(ies) represent the proportion of the real wealth (goods, services, standard of living, etc) they generate as a proportion of all wealth generation in the economy?” The answer is clearly ‘no’, given the financial services industry were responsible for the global financial mess. As such, the financial services industry represents something known as ‘deeadweight loss’ to the economy. A bit like an inefficient 1970s heavy industry, but on serious amounts of steroids and crack cocaine. Until the financial services industry goes under, or is replaced with new entrants to the market that can actually do their jobs, then it is destroying the British economy.

    I refer you to the youtube link of Milton Friedman you posted yesterday. When a sector of the economy receives a large amount of money for very little in return, it doesn’t matter how much tax they pay – that industry/economy sector is a deadweight loss to the economy.

    2. “Or perhaps how they’d cut public services or pay for the difference without the high warning businesses and individuals who provide more than 10% of current tax revenue?”

    If the financial services industry wasn’t taking so much money out of the economy, then more money would chase productive activity, generating greater wealth and tax revenues, so there would be no need for cutting as much from the productive public spending (most of which goes straight to the private sector anyway through out-sourcing).

    The money that was used to bail out the banks was in excess of the total money paid in taxes by every organisation and individual working in the financial sevices industry up to the present time. Furthermore, I again refer you to the youtube link of Milton Friedman that you posted yesterday. The ‘amount of tax an industry pays’ argument is irrelevant if that industry is inefficient – it is precisely the fallacy that Friedman attacked – i.e. that a sector of the economy that produces little of real value IS NOT useful just because it pays taxes – it is simply shifting money around for doing nothing (precisely what a large part of the City does). Friedman talks about the value of the goods and services produced by the money spent in the economy – as would any economist. I find it very strange that you can post a video of Friedman saying that the tax argument is a fallacy on one day, and then post something about the City ‘providing’ 10% of tax revenues the following day.

  • a triumph for the sectional interest of the City and for what we Liberals used to call ‘the warping influence of nationalism’ or as Lord Oakeshott: said this morning “…for special interests in the City of London. His alliance with the wierdos + wackos of Europe leaves us totally marginalised”

  • Posted 9th December 2011 at 2:02 pm ………..anyone like to answer my question about which bit of camerons demands they disagree with?……………

    Not I…Although , if memory serves, it was Europe who, initially, were demanding that “Banks should face a higher capital requirement”.

    However, I’ll wager that there’s a lot more to it than that…After all, Mark Hoban said that the proposals, “were not one-way traffic and that “Some of the rules would benefit London”…

  • @ Orangepan:
    A very interesting and I find myself partially in agreement, however I do not believe that regulation or indeed a transaction Tax would necessarily cause Banks to seek pastures new. London remains compeititive because it has the skills, infrastructure and is in the rght time zone. Indeed all the years I worked in the City we were constantly threatened with competition, Singapore, Frankfurt,. Paris and New York, it never happened and I don’t believe it would now. If we want to rebalance economy however we need to ensure that the magnetism of the City is curbed, we must ensure that at least some of our most talented Managers are attracted to Manufacturing Industry rather than making a quick buck in London.
    I think I understand Cameron’s problem, if he had agreed to the Treaty it would have triggered a Referendum, which he would have lost, which he knew would be economic suicide.

  • Jonathan Fryer 9th Dec '11 - 4:45pm

    No, I did mean “frisson” Jenny. I remember how excited some of the continental summiteers used to get when Mrs Thatcher was on her way to give them a hand-bagging. But I fear that the feeling among our EU partners on this ocasion was more one of irritation.

  • There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what Cameron was being asked to do – and has now refused to do. As I understand it, this treaty was nothing to do with regulating financial services etc. It was entirely about moves towards tighter rules for eurozone countries intended as the first step towards some form of fiscal union. The only reason for asking Cameron and other EU prime ministers not in the eurozone to sign it was the perceived extra strength and sense of unity it would give to the outside world if all EU countries were seen to endorse it, even though the provisions would only apply to the eurozone countries. Also this would avoid arguments (watch for them arising now!) as to whether the inner circle of eurozone countries could legitimately use EU facilities and institutions to pursue their deliberations as their “union within a union” deepens. This would not have triggered a referendum in UK because the treaty did nothing to transfer powers from UK to EU.

    Knowing these points had value, the eurosceptics were bawling at Cameron to extract all sorts of concessions as the price for his signature. Cameron felt he had to be seen to demand something and settled on some concessions on financial services regulation (being negotiated in another part of the forest) as the minimum he could sell to his party. Presumably Nick Clegg and co. aquiesced in this as the least worst option.

    Merkel and Sarkozy knew they could fall back on the less satisfactory option of an agreement between the eurozone countries only but must have dearly wanted the wider agreement among the whole 27. The fact that they bluntly refused to give Cameron any fig leaf – indeed not even putting his demands to the other countries – is to my mind highly significant. Does it mean that they have decided they have had enough of the constant “hokey cokey” behaviour of the Brits (in-out-shake it all about, since you ask!”) and reckon the rather weaker mandate of the eurozone countries alone was worth it, if it meant they did not have to put up any more with trying to keep the Brits aboard? Given that it looks as if all the other non eurozone countries would have gone along with the wider mandate I can well imagine they will be rewarded in all sorts of little ways and UK shown the cold shoulder wherever that can be done without damaging European core interests. And of course some of them will join the euro, if and when its problems are brought under control.

    The kind of EU membership that the UK is left with will be more and more difficult for europhiles like myself to defend against the reinvigorated hordes of the eurosceptics.

    It is all looking pretty bleak.

  • Jonathan Fryer 9th Dec '11 - 5:28pm

    Excellent commentary, Denis. And I agree, “it is all looking pretty bleak.”

  • “France and Germany said no, so we said you must go on about your rescue without us.”

    Isn’t it more a question of Cameron having tried to extract a price for the UK adding its signature – by way of moral support only – to a treaty to wouldn’t affect the UK, and France and Germany having called his bluff?

  • @jedibeeftrix

    Critics of Cameron’s move and Clegg’s backing for it need to answer which among those points they would have wanted to give ground on. Would they rather sell out the interests of one of our major tax-paying sectors to please the French and Germans. I think they should make it clear.

  • @ Denis

    “The kind of EU membership that the UK is left with will be more and more difficult for europhiles like myself to defend against the reinvigorated hordes of the eurosceptics. It is all looking pretty bleak.”

    So presumably you’d rather we had the kind of relationship where the rest of the EU is free to make massive mistakes in the running of its affairs and then try to make the UK pay for them by trampling all over its national interests?

    We were presented with a prospect of creeping interference in a vital national interest and were given no guarantees. Do you think the French would have hesitated for one minute if we had said we wanted to regulate their agricultural sector from London?

  • David Allen 9th Dec '11 - 7:12pm

    @ RC

    It may be that letting Cameron provide massive support for the financial interests of his City friends was also important enough to the financial health of the nation as a whole to be worth doing. It may or may not prove to outweigh the harm that isolation in Europe is bound to cause the UK far into the future.

    What is clear is that Cameron and his City friends now owe a massive favour to the rest of the nation, and to the Lib Dems who supported him, in return for what they have taken for themselves. Will Clegg demand some recompense?

  • paul barker 9th Dec '11 - 7:48pm

    Think we all need to calm down a bit. Cameron did what he had to do to stop his Party splitting, Clegg said what he had to say ( & what he said was, itself “reasonable”) to keep The Coalition together. Can you imagine The Markets reaction if The British Government fell now ?
    We only have to wait a week to find out if The Eursceptics have been helped or not, lets see what % UKIP get in F & H.

  • The question of the reasonableness or otherwise of Cameron’s demands does not arise. By all means let him at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place negotiate strongly about regulation of financial services. But to try to use this crisis point in European and world affairs to force his case on this separate issue shows a depressing lack of statesmanship and indeed empathy for his partners – all because of unrest within his party, of which he is the undisputed leader.

    It is like finding his neighbour bleeding in the road and saying “Of course I’ll help you but first of all can I have that piece of garden I’ve been trying to buy from you?”

    No wonder they gave him the bum’s rush!

  • @ Denis

    “The question of the reasonableness or otherwise of Cameron’s demands does not arise.”

    Why not? I assume that your comment means that you would have been happy to sign up to the whole thing, regardless of the outcome?

    “The only reason for asking Cameron and other EU prime ministers not in the eurozone to sign it was the perceived extra strength and sense of unity it would give to the outside world”

    Not really, the French wanted to go with something similar to what is happening now (inter Gov agreements), they were persuaded to go down the treaty modification route by Germany who were afraid that it wouldn’t have enough clout. Of course, both Countries have their issues, Sarkozy has a bunch of banks on the brink and wants to ensure that they don’t go under (but without cost to France), he is also going to have a hard election next year. Obviously Germany has consistently blocked intervention by the ECB as they fully realise that they will have to underwrite the debts of the others (although it would seem some pro-Europeans would like to gloss over that fact, whilst berating the Coalition for not allowing the City to become a Euro cash cow).

    Sarkozy & Merkel met Cameron prior to the meetings, so both would have been fully aware of what the “line in the sand” was, yet both rejected the request out of hand. Perhaps the French themselves may have the answer why –
    http://www.france24.com/en/20111209-sarkozy-cameron-ties-france-britain-eurozone-crisis-new-treaty

  • @chris_sh

    My point is that I do not think the financial services thing was really threatened by this treaty intended to deal with fiscal and other discipline within the eurozone. It was an unnecessary “line in the sand” to draw at this juncture – purely as a bone to toss to the eurosceptics.

  • @Denis
    “My point is that I do not think the financial services thing was really threatened by this treaty intended to deal with fiscal and other discipline within the eurozone.”

    A query then, if it wasn’t such a big deal and there was no threat, why was it rejected out of hand as it would have been a no-brainer to accept it and get a full agreement?

  • @Denis

    Sorry – as a further aside, why would France24 make the following statement regarding the veto:

    “French President Nicolas Sarkozy said British Prime Minister David Cameron’s bid to halt ongoing EU efforts to curb the City of London’s huge financial services sector was “unacceptable”.”

  • Everyone has their own ideas but listening to French news reports and Sky…Their reports bear little resemblance to Cameron/Clegg statements. Their emphasis is that, far from putting moderate proposals and rejecting outrageous demands, Cameron tried to use the occasion to renegotiate the existing treaty.

  • Paul McKeown 9th Dec '11 - 10:36pm

    @judybeatrix

    Whenever I see the words “bien pensant” I stop reading, whatever follows is sure to be a pointless diatribe.

  • @chris_sh
    “A query then, if it wasn’t such a big deal and there was no threat, why was it rejected out of hand as it would have been a no-brainer to accept it and get a full agreement?”

    As i said in my first post up there somewhere, this is exactly what worries me. It looks like Merkozy have decided to let the UK go where it wants. It is just not worth the hassle any more in their eyes.

  • @Jason

    “Their emphasis is that, far from putting moderate proposals and rejecting outrageous demands, Cameron tried to use the occasion to renegotiate the existing treaty.”

    I think the oft used phrase “You couldn’t make it up” springs to mind. At a summit designed to agree changes to the treaty, France complains that the UK is trying to renegotiate the treaty. Ah well, there is an election on the way I suppose :-D

  • Simon Bamonte 9th Dec '11 - 11:55pm

    @Paul Barker “Can you imagine The Markets reaction if The British Government fell now ?”

    This is what depresses me. Since the beginning of the Coalition, I have often heard that phrase, warning about the “reaction of the markets”. Yet, I have rarely heard many fellow Lib Dems asking “Can you imagine the British peoples’ reaction if we go ahead with Tuition fees?” or “What will the British people think if we push NHS reforms that opinion polls say they don’t want?”

    It appears to me we may be living in a dictatorship of the markets and/or financial services. They always seem to get what they want. But the British people who want decent healthcare and a better, more fair society? No, they can whistle..

  • Jonathan Fryer 10th Dec '11 - 12:16am

    Sharon Bowles MEP has summed up nicely my own feelings about the events of the past 24 hours: “Cameron hsa played a dangerous game ad lost.” http://bit.ly/u3oapP

  • Elizabeth Patterson 10th Dec '11 - 1:41pm

    Amen to all you say Jonathan!!
    It is also alarming to me as a long standing Libdem that I have this week become an admirer and fan of …………..Michael Heseltine!!
    For his wise words and an analysis that we should be shouting over the raucous voices of the tory right.

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