David Cameron and the European crisis: some hard truths

Posted on December 9, 2011


I woke up this morning to discover history had been made, or so I was told. Europe and the United Kingdom have parted ways. At a summit in Brussels this morning, David Cameron had used our veto for the first time to stop a ruinous financial transaction tax, but he has also isolated the country as a result. Eurosceptics have spent the day rejoicing; Europhiles lamenting.

This blog has been a purposively Euro-free zone: I simply don’t know enough about the ins-and-outs of the European Union to write intelligently on it (assuming I write intelligently on other stuff…). But after reading a lot of the commentary surrounding today’s events, I think there are a number of hard truths to face.

  1. David Cameron did not veto anything; he and a few other countries simply refused to participate in a (bad) deal.
  2. The Prime Minister was decisively outmanoeuvred by Nicholas Sarkozy, the most theatrically inept French statesman since Napoleon III, who also had the odd diplomatic success.
  3. Given that France, Germany, and the United Kingdom fundamentally disagree about the problems of, and solutions for Europe, the first two truths were inevitable.
  4. Given the third truth, David Cameron chose the least bad option, as it seems the only way this country can gain “influence” in Europe is if it gave up pursuing its own interests and devoted all our energies to pursuing those of France and Germany (which is what The Economist‘s Bagehot and Charlemange seem to be recommending).
  5. Today, then, was a victory for Nicholas Sarkozy, not David Cameron, but it will be a short-term one: the deal agreed to by twenty-odd countries does not solve the fundamentals of the financial crisis in Europe, and, like the many deals of the last few months, it will probably fall apart as quickly as it was reached.
  6. The great Julian Lindley-French believes that the United Kingdom needs to begin to separate solving the European financial crisis (which matters to us) from the survival of the Euro (which is partially important) and our membership of the European Union (which looks less and less attractive by the hour).
  7. If Julian Lindley-French believes we should leave the EU, then maybe we should…