David Cameron’s EU strategy risks backfiring seriously
Jonathan Lindsell, 24 June 2014
Britain is currently fighting blunt tooth and broken nail to block Jean-Claude Juncker’s promotion to European Commission President.
For David Cameron’s substantial EU reform ambitions he needs all the allies, goodwill and bargaining chips he can get his hands on, and he needs them with both member states’ leaders and whoever tops the Brussels machine. Instead, he’s alienating everybody by dragging out the process, forcing the pivotal German Chancellor Merkel to declare against him, losing popular Italian leader Matteo Renzi, and making Juncker a much worse enemy than he needed to be. Cameron’s even repelled the support of Boris Johnson’s university chum, the Polish foreign minister.
Before the EP elections, Juncker expressed openness to reform. Before the EP elections, the British media didn’t know who the Luxembourger was, let alone care about him enough to run attack pieces hyping his alcoholism/megalomania/Anglophobia. By opposing him so publicly and in such uncompromising language, Cameron has built Juncker into a bogeyman representing all the EU’s many ills. Juncker is not that bogeyman – defeating his Commission Presidency bid will obtain precisely zero of the reforms Eurosceptics want.
There were good reasons for opposing Juncker, and it initially made sense for Britain to voice concern. However, it’s long been clear that there’s no other option, let alone a consensus candidate, and that most EU leaders are behind the EPP candidate. Early last week, Cameron should have compromised and retained his political capital, supporting Juncker in exchange for the single market portfolio for Britain’s commissioner, plus a public statement of reformist intent from the newly-crowned president.
Instead Cameron will take a big loss, having wasted his chips. He’s skirting a further PR disaster since Friday’s summit will be held at Ypres (‘Wipers’), the Belgian town which saw three bloody battles during the First World War and Mustard Gas’ first military use. Diplomats on all sides are already wary of the symbolism. One over-enthusiastic Tory (or Ukip) MEP making bombastic remarks about a tradition of fighting off Germans could cause a serious incident.
Cameron’s position looks weaker still thanks to campaign group ‘Business for Britain’, who coordinated 54 industry leaders to write to the Sunday Times demanding radical EU progress. The group also commissioned Europe Economics to research the City’s EU relationship. The study concluded Eurozone banking regulation is becoming so threatening that Britain will soon face a dilemma named ‘Osborne’s Fork’: leave the EU or join the Euro.
Downing Street’s intentions to invoke the Luxembourg compromise or force a formal vote on Juncker are worse steps on this dismal path – they’ll humiliate Cameron further, burn what little petrol is left in the goodwill tank, and still yield absolutely nothing of value. The only way to explain Cameron’s strategy besides incompetence would be a desire to demonstrate that the EU’s so obstructive that it’s beyond reform, meaning Cameron could recommend exit in a referendum campaign. If that’s the plan, though, why pursue it in a way that makes the Prime Minister look isolated, deluded and obsessive?