Tag: David Cameron

Worried about “ever closer union”?

The argument about “ever closer union” is one of the most irrational ones in the British EU discourse. The phrase conjures up the image that  European integration is unstoppable and it somehow happens without anyone noticing, a creeping development of a European super state. Most commentators blissfully ignore the missing legal foundation of the phrase (or the ratification processes of new treaties that actually change the nature of the EU)  ‘Ever closer union’ doesn’t really matter in every day EU politics. The phrase was first included in the Treaty of Rome in 1957 (well  before the UK joined!) and it reads like this:

Determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe,…

Yes, it does matter for some member states as a political symbol for European integration, but it is also a lofty political goal, the sort of stuff you would put into a preamble of a boring treaty. One should be relaxed about it,  it is also a phrase of its time. Funnily enough, the phrase has mostly been discussed in the UK where it developed into some sort of rhetorical weapon against the EU. As part of his ‘renegotiation‘ David Cameron is now keen to remove this sentence from the treaties to ‘stop’ the alleged automatic integration of the EU.  It is another fight he will not be able to win. There is absolutely no willingness among the other 27 EU member states to open the treaties to change symbolic language – and, more importantly, the problem has been solved.

During last week’s European Council, David Cameron ‘raised concerns’ and the following sentence was included in the Council conclusions:

The European Council noted that the concept of ever closer union allows for different paths of integration for different countries, allowing those that want to deepen integration to move ahead, while respecting the wish of those who do not want to deepen any further.

But this is not a bold move by the British Prime Minister it simply confirms existing EU rules. And any commentator who praises this as a breakthrough or a change in direction is seriously misguided. This has been the de-facto policy of the EU for quite a while, it is included in the Lisbon Treaty, it is called “enhanced cooperation” – and you can read about it here.

From a British perspective, the concept of”enhanced cooperation” is effectively giving the UK a permanent opt-out from  ‘ever closer union’.

Why Cameron’s case for ‘EU reform’ is a PR stunt

Cameron’s “EU reform” is a PR stunt designed to please the media and his backbenchers. He basically follows the advice of his pollsters that told him that he could win an EU referendum if he convincingly  changes the “UK’s terms of membership”. But it follows a simplistic idea: The man on the street does not know the current membership terms (thanks to a media that is not always helpful in reporting the facts…)  so using this general ignorance Cameron’s pollsters are convinced  that the Prime Minister can deliver “a more favourable deal” simply by getting a few concessions and by constantly emphasising how favourable these new terms would be…

There are several  problems with this approach – not least  the smugness of taking the electorate as fools:

First of all this “renegotiation” of membership terms has already happened. The UK is not part of the eurozone, it did not sign the fiscal compact, it is not part of the Schengen area. Over the years British politicians have negotiated a series of policy opt-outs (the latest being the JHA opt-out). And last but not least the UK still enjoys a “budget rebate”. The UK is effectively a semi-detached EU member state. So the question is: What else can you realistically “renegotiate”? There is also little political will elsewhere in the EU to grant yet another opt-out to the UK.

The second problem is a misunderstanding of what is an institutional – and what is a policy change.  Most things that Cameron usually labels as ‘reform’ are policies which can be implemented without banging on about how this would constitute a ‘new EU deal’ (especially when you think about ‘completing the single market’, trade agreements such as TTIP or establishing a ‘digital single market’)

The third problem is the general lack of ideas. The only evidence so far is an article by David Cameron in the Sunday Times  – not quite the  detailed policy agenda one expects from a new “EU deal”. The government also set up a process, the so-called  Review of the Balance of competences , “an audit of what the EU does and how it affects the UK”. The idea behind it was that it would generate enough ideas for this ambitious ‘new deal with the EU’. Unfortunately (for Cameron) this audit (so far) has found not much that needs to be renegotiated – the balance is broadly acceptable.

It seems to me that it would have been better to wait for the results of this review before announcing the referendum/renegotiation package. The latest idea to remove a largely symbolic (and not legally binding!) reference to  “ever closer union” in a  EU treaty looks like a desperate attempt to appease – once again – the eurosceptic backbenchers. Suffice to say the treaty will not be changed – any political declaration that Cameron could get out of the European Council will just be a piece of paper.

So basically “EU reform” is an empty shell. Cameron uses it all the time without being specific about it with the aim of giving the impression that all is going according to plan. But unfortunately (for him) nothing goes according to plan. There will be no new treaty  (another miscalculation by Cameron’s advisers) and by not framing the issue in a broader context he is set to lose all remaining allies.

Any proper EU reform is usually negotiated by all EU member states – not by one member states making demands and threatening to leave. It is about compromise – but for Cameron everything is a “battle” and it is unlikely that he will change his negotiation tactics in the coming months… If you want treaty change (and this is the only thing Cameron should fight for – forget about Juncker) you basically have to convince all other member states that it is in their interest to change the treaty – and once they want a new treaty you reluctantly also agree to call for an IGC. But this more diplomatic approach is not David Cameron’s cup of tea…

In hindsight, Cameron’s referendum pledge was a mistake

Cameron’s initial strategic mistake was the referendum pledge. It did not appease the Tory right (as originally envisaged). The rise of UKIP did not stop –  on the contrary UKIP  is alive and kicking (the plan of Cameron was to develop a credible response that attacks the raison d’être of UKIP) The rest of the EU increasingly perceives Cameron’s actions as a simple act of blackmailing. And if Cameron continues to negotiate like he did during the Spitzenkandidaten row –  I am afraid that he will not get any concession in the coming months.  And  anyway Cameron’s idea of EU reform is simply non-existent (and only because one prominent UK based think tank writes about it doesn’t make it true)

And now another scenario appears increasingly likely: The in-out EU referendum may become a referendum on immigration. It must be Cameron’s nightmare scenario. There will be no new treaty, renegotiation will be a PR exercise and the issue of immigration could dominate the referendum campaign:

If there were to be a renegotiation, the two things they most want are “control of immigration” and “send less money”. If the EU remains in control of immigration, renegotiation would be seen as a failure and, having raised false hopes, would make people more likely to vote “out”. While the status quo in a referendum usually has a structural advantage, in an EU referendum this advantage could be lost as the “out” campaign could say “this is your chance to change immigration policy”.

After the Conservatives attacked UKIP by promising an EU referendum UKIP simply changed tactics and  discovered the topic of “immigration”.  It worked well over the past couple of months, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that issue would also be used in a referendum campaign.

And if that happens, all bets are off – and the UK could indeed sleepwalk out of the EU.

David Cameron’s “EU reform” explained in 4 tweets

After blogging about David Cameron’s “EU reform ideas”  (and some ideas that would *really* make a difference) I am getting annoyed by this renegotiation debate:  Every Sunday the British elite presents another “EU reform” idea but they don’t seem to notice that a) it is not a priority for the British citizens b) it is not a priority for the rest of the EU c) most of it is impossible or to vague to achieve d) most of it shows a profound lack of understanding how the EU works and d) the government  fails to see that some things could be achieved by changing procedures how the UK government/parliament works. Anyway, this whole story provided me with the opportunity to develop a series of ‘political analysis in 140 characters’ tweets:

Why does Cameron want EU reform?

So, what is the problem?


But what does Cameron really want?

So, his ideas are vague and resemble a Daily Mail story about the EU, I’d rather keep the status quo:

Some ideas for EU reform that would *really* make a difference

In the UK there is too much talk about ill-defined “EU reform” that will not make any difference. Who needs a complex new “red card” procedure when you  a) never exhausted the existing “yellow card procedure” and b) could just copy the Danish approach to control your ministers in the Council? Why do we need to talk about “benefit tourism” if it does not even exist?  How can we cut down all this red tape without knowing what laws  you are actually talking about? Do we really need treaty change just because you want your doctors and nurses to have less rights? Here are a few ideas that would *really* make a difference in how we talk about the EU:

  • EU member states: Stop blaming the EU for your own ideas. Ministers in the Council often suggest stuff but once they are back in their countries they seem surprised that anyone took them seriously. And one more thing:  if it is an idea that was previously rejected in your country – well, you know, maybe it is a bad idea?
  • European Commission: Start blaming others by putting colourful banners on the front page of all Commission proposals that reveal the origin of the proposal: “This regulation was requested by a joint initiative of the British and German governments” / “This is follow-up from the Environment Council” / “This Commission directive is the result of an intense lobbying campaign by French energy companies” / “This Commission directive was inspired by the Tobacco industry”. Call it a new “transparency initiative” – trust me, it would fundamentally transform the EU discourse.
  • European Commission: Hire a couple of journalists and create a “Bullshit Detection Unit (BTU)”: Each Commission proposal needs to pass the BTU test. This will reduce the amount of formulations that could be misinterpreted by other journalists.
  • European Parliament: Stop talking about things you can’t change.  Nobody needs your own initiative reports. They only get picked up by the tabloids as proof for some new “EU law”. Similar point about the upcoming European Parliament elections – focus on policies that you can actually influence and be frank about things you will not be able to change under the current treaties.
  • Journalists: Just stop following this guide. It was not supposed to be a manual.
  • Everybody: Every time you criticise the EU for being not bold enough/ too soft/not speaking with one voice/ too business friendly / not business friendly enough  – try and suggest an actual policy. But first try and think for one moment whether it is an EU competence and if you could get all 28 countries to agree on it.

…to be continued…

Kosmolinks #22

Cameron at the Mercy of European Events

Excellent piece by Simon Nixon on David Cameron, the Tories and Europe. The lack of any coherent EU strategy and the focus on short term gains has left David Cameron at the mercy of events – and in the hand of his eurosceptic backbenchers.

Don’t Blame the Euro Mess for Britain’s Plight

Please note the disclaimer at the end of the article. But the point remains valid: “U.K. policy makers should stop blaming the economy’s plight on the crisis in the euro zone and engage in deeper soul-searching about the country’s enduring economic weakness. Britain’s economy has actually shrunk fractionally more over the past year than the euro zone’s has. Over the past two years, the euro zone’s economy has grown by a total of 1.1%, Britain’s by only 0.2%.”

(PS: Two excellent pieces on Britain and the EU in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal. Interesting)

Europe at a crossroads: what kind of Europe do we want?.

William Hague makes the case that we need ‘flexible European integration’ to embrace ‘diversity’. He also thinks that “less is more” and that the European Parliament is useless – oh – and that the UK is interested in EU Foreign Policy (he did not mention the Canada embassy sharing story and the constant undermining of the EEAS)  But nevertheless,  it is his first substantial speech on Europe in quite a while and he is surprisingly pragmatic and polite (quite an achievement!).  Read it – it is a good summary of what the British government is trying to do.

Media coverage of the European Union is key to understanding eurosceptic attitudes within the UK

Interesting research project by Benjamin Hawkins on the British media debate on the EU:  “There are two principal frames evident within eurosceptic discourse: the EU as a foreign power and the EU as a bargaining forum.”

David Cameron’s fresh consent

I am still confused about what David Cameron’s ‘fresh consent’ idea will involve. But I think he is going for a minimal risk strategy – and instead of an active negotaition strategy to repatriate powers he is hoping for a ‘default’ opt-out from eurozone governance mechanisms which will ensure and consolidate British second class membership of the EU.

Cameron’s diplomatic failure

One of the most surprising revelations of this weeks’ European Council was the weakness of British diplomacy. The lack of any proper diplomatic strategy is indeed shocking and one may come to the conclusion that this has been a complete diplomatic failure. It would be interesting to know whether this was a deliberate strategy (basically not wanting a deal from the beginning) or if this  points to underlying problems within the Foreign Office or Downing Street. Interestingly it was the  UK treasury that  prepared a last minute protocol which was used by David Cameron as the main negotiating tool. The main problem for Cameron was twofold:

First, his demands had nothing to do with the discussions at the summit. Second, nobody knew about his demands in advance.

What sort of diplomacy is this?

Moreover, Cameron  had no allies whatsoever. Another grave diplomatic failure.  During the last couple of weeks it became clear that this summit would be an important one. But Cameron did not care about allies abroad – no,  it was more important to discuss repatriation and referendums at home. Did he talk to PMs in Poland or Romania?  Maybe he should have read Sikorski’s speech to grasp the mood in the region?  Did he travel to the Baltics, Denmark or Sweden? And what was the diplomatic strategy regarding Germany and France?

At the same time, the idea of speaking for the 10 non-euro countries was flawed from the beginning. Most other countries are legally obliged to introduce the euro so they have an interest in being close to Merkel and Sarkozy in order to shape the rules they will have to obey at some point. As soon as Merkel and Sarkozy came up with a  ‘euro plus’ framework the argument was lost for Britain.

When Cameron met Angela Merkel in Berlin a couple of weeks ago he only mentioned his problems with the Working Time Directive (EWTD) and said nothing about the specific City interests. Interestingly, during the summit Merkel was prepared to discuss a EJC ruling of the EWTD (according to German media reports – can’t find the link at the moment).

Cameron’s misjudgment

Both, Die Welt and The Economist have similar stories about what exactly happened during the summit. It turns out that Cameron misjudged the mood among fellow leaders during the summit.  Cameron thought that the ‘Protocol 12′ solution was the preferred method for the eurozone – giving him leverage through a unanimous decision-making procedure. Bagehot thinks Cameron overplayed his hand, others said he lost his gamble (or verzockt as Udo van Kampen called it on German TV)   However, if he had listened to what politicians, diplomats and media commentators  in Germany or France said during the last weeks he should have known better. Plus  he had no allies, hence his isolation was not a surprise. Simply put, Cameron is not in the loop, maybe because he pulled out of the EPP… In any case,  his advisors should be sacked.

Cameron is not a diplomat and I am not sure he actually enjoys summits. Deep in his heart he is a eurosceptic (although the UK government has followed a pragmatic EU policy) but he comes across as arrogant and bossy. Especially during the eurozone crisis a sense of schadenfreude dominated the UK’s rhethoric.  The UK’s bilateral relations with EU member states have not been sufficiently developed. Cameron is like a robot in this respect. Whatever the issue somewhere in Europe he starts his monologue about British interests and why the EU is such a bad idea. This is hardly a good starting point for a constructive debate. Moreover, it seems difficult for him to build personal relationships with other European leaders – a necessity to win an argument at a summit.

The veto myth

After a good spin by Cameron we are now faced with a ‘veto myth’ which is going through the British and European media. Especially the so-called Eurosceptics in the UK love the idea of David ‘the Eurosceptic’ Cameron.  The problem as pointed out by more eloquent writers is that this was not a veto. A veto stops something. Cameron did not manage to stop anything. It is a bluff. The question is how long will Cameron benefit from calling it a veto?

The main line of Cameron was to ‘defend the national interest’ which translates into ‘defending the interests of the City’.  Now I don’t want to discuss why that is necessary or why he is doing it but I want to point out something else:

Defending a certain interest can be a good strategy. But the diplomatic failure described above led to a situation in which nothing of which Cameron wanted to defend was actually on the agenda. So basically he did not defend his ‘national interest’ – he was isolated and ignored. How can he claim to actually used a ‘veto’? How can he claim it was a victory for Britain? (also considering the British record in the field of EU wide financial regulation, see for example here and here)

The ‘veto myth’ also creates another problem for Cameron. The UK position is weakened after this summit. The euro plus group may create rules that are not in the interest of the UK (and the City is not happy about isolation either). Moreover, this may backfire in the ‘normal’ EU policy making processes as this episode did not help to improve the  reputation of the UK government.

It seems to me that Cameron is a bad negotiator. He does not seem to get the nature of EU negotiations. Merkel and Sarkozy (and others) often propose things before a summit just to use it as a bargaining chip. Cameron never does it – and never understands it when others do it. He also seems to have no interest in developing a compromise. Cameron goes to Brussels to defend Britain – not to negotiate a compromise that Britain can support and is in the interest of Britain. A crucial difference.

I am also a bit surprised that he actually picked ‘the City’ as the national interest worth defending. Of course it makes sense for a Conservative PM but defending the interest of bankers  is not necessarily a topic to win public opinion and new voters? It is more crowd pleaser for the Tories and for the tabloids that think that the EU is more evil than the City.

Domestic debate and backbenchers

Cameron must have been afraid of his eurosceptic backbenchers and a possible referendum (although I still fail to see the justification as it was a proposed treaty change that does not affect the UK ). Was the threat that great that Cameron was afraid to lose the argument?  He must have felt that the government could collapse if he signed up to anything. Maybe he was thinking about the  need to involve Labour to get it through parliament? Cameron placed the importance of the domestic debate over the common good – which should not surprise anyone who is familiar with Cameron’s take on the EU. He is not only afraid of any EU debate in his party – ultimately he is afraid to lose power.

But when will the media and the Conservative party realise that this whole story was a diplomatic failure and a personal misjudgment of David Cameron? It might indeed backfire

(Another interpretation is that Cameron really had an interest in helping the EU26. A separate treaty might indeed be more efficient. And by pushing the EU26  into a separate treaty Cameron is able to get some sort of  single-market-only-EU the Tories dream of (at least he can sell it that way!). It may not appease the anti-EU fraction but it may win over the moderate eurosceptics. By inventing a ‘protocol to defend the national interest’ Cameron was able to withdraw from the negotiations with a certain dignity. Plus he was able to score some useful anti-EU points in the national debate. Moreover, he  achieved some sort of separation between the EU and the UK which he can use in the future to avoid referendums and EU related debates in his party.)

David Cameron rules out ‘in-out referendum’ on EU membership

Well, technically he did not really answer the question (“I am afraid to disappoint the honorable gentleman and his wife… We are better off inside the EU but making changes to it…”) but a referendum is definitely not on the agenda. Cameron will not risk it as he seems to be afraid of a negative outcome.  (More on that issue soon on this blog… I hope) Continue reading

Con/LibDem coalition: A new role for Britain in the EU?

Probably not. To get an idea what the new Conservative/ LibDem coalition is thinking about the EU you just have to read two short documents:

Last week an interesting memo leaked from William Hague who is now the new British Foreign Secretary:

The Tory letter on Europe in full.

There is also a section in coalition agreement titled”Relations with the EU”:

Coalition Negotiations Agreement

Just a short comment:

A lot of no’s and red lines. A referendum lock on any new EU treaty (ok, nothing is in the pipeline at the moment..) or “if sovereignty is transfered” (whatever that means…).  It is a nice gesture to include the idea of  “one seat for the EP” – but it is not likely to happen (just ask any French minister…). And that the UK will not introduce the Euro in the next 5 years is also not a surprise (Maastricht criteria anyone?). Everything is very vague – probably to please the anti-EU Tories as well as the pro-EU LibDems. It is disappointing that there is no positive idea, no willingness to engage creatively, no project that the UK government wants to push forward. Some innovative climate change legislation maybe, completing the single market, an increased cooperation in defense matters (St.Malo was a good start!)  or even a CAP reform (and the British rebate is a great bargaining chip!)…there are quite some possibilities without any ‘sovereignty issues’ attached.

Unfortunately, William Hague, the new Foreign Secretary, is a convinced  anti-EU politician. Usually he is an outspoken euroskeptic who has been instrumental for numerous Conservative/euroskeptic policies and ideas. One example is the infamous post-ratification referendum.

On  a more positive note, David Lidington, a moderate Tory, was appointed as the new Europe minister. In the early 1990s he supported John Major’s backing of the Maastricht Treaty . Interestingly, the former “shadow Europe minister”  Mark Francois did not get the job.  He is another hard-line euroskeptic who was behind the Tory idea of leaving the EPP group in the European Parliament. (thanks to GGBrunt for the clarification)

Nick Clegg, the deputy PM, and most of the LibDems in the newly formed cabinet are amongst the most pro-EU politicians in the UK.  Kenneth Clarke, the (only?) pro-EU Tory in the cabinet became Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, which is a good position for him to deal with or veto the most radical  ‘power repatriation’ ideas of the Conservative Party. The cabinet is indeed an interesting mixture and we have to wait how it develops.

David Cameron, the new Prime Minister, strikes me as very pragmatic. At the moment I think he will not do anything radical because it will be difficult to keep the LibDems happy if he follows the euroskeptic wing of his party. Even before he came to power he ditched the idea of having a post-ratification referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon. I think he is quite realistic what he can achieve with the coalition and what not.We might see some more parliamentary scrutiny and possibly some more opt-outs. I don’t think anything will be successful that involves opt-out from existing agreements that would need the consensus of the other 26 EU states. I think he knows that and he deliberately has been very vague when it comes to details. He does seem to recognize that the topic might develop into a major problem for the coalition.

At the same time we should not expect any great initiative coming from Downing Street in the next years. Unfortunately  Britain is likely to keep a distance to the  EU  and we will definitely get a more ‘radical’ rhetoric from the government – especially from William Hague.

Cameron vs. Brown

Interesting how Gordon Brown defends the EU and the Lisbon Treaty: Conviction or tactics?

© 2014 Kosmopolito

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑