Wednesday 3 April 2013

The balance of Cameron’s competences

France and Germany have decided to have nothing to do with David Cameron’s review of the powers of the European Union. And they are quite right.

They consider that the UK government’s ‘review of the balance of competencies’, launched at the insistence of the Conservative half of the coalition, is a “domestic political exercise”, which it plainly is. If several EU member states had agreed that a comprehensive review were necessary, this project would have some legitimacy, but they haven’t, so it doesn’t.

The sole purpose of this review is to enable the British Conservative Party to mollify its eurosceptic wing sufficiently to avoid an internal split, while fending off the electoral threat from UKIP. To propose a review on these parochial grounds is imperial conceit of the highest order. Does anyone seriously believe that any sort of fundamental constitutional review for a 27-member union should be based primarily on the selfish needs of just one party in one member state?

France and Germany also point out, quite rightly, that you cannot have an “à la carte” approach to EU membership. When you join a club, you must abide by its rules. Of course, all the member states have a say in what those rules should be. The UK, as one of the larger member states, has more say than most, or would if the Tories were not so maladroit at making friends and influencing people.

The British Tories would rather the EU were simply a loose, free trade area. If that is what they really want, they need to build a coalition behind it by mobilising allies across the EU. Instead, they pulled out of the main right-wing bloc in the EU (the EPP, the largest group in the European Parliament) and formed a rival right-wing bloc (the ECR, a rag-bag of “nutters and homophobes” – Nick Clegg’s words, not ours).

And anyway, why should France and Germany care what David Cameron thinks? They know that he is unlikely to be able to leap all the hurdles he has set himself and won’t be around for much longer. As John Palmer points out:
The survey [the UK government’s review] is one part of a carefully orchestrated campaign designed to lead up to a possible referendum on EU membership, to be held towards the end of 2017. This, of course, will be well after the next general election and is designed to follow on what London expects will be a major new EU constitutional treaty to give the Euro area sweeping new powers.
The prime minister’s strategy therefore depends on him successfully clearing three critical hurdles. First: survive as leader of the Conservative party up to the general election. Second: win the next UK election with a clear overall Tory majority. Third: trading demands for the UK to be given a special semi-detached status in the EU in return for not blocking a new treaty for euro-area economic and political union.
There are obvious question marks over all three stages.
The irony is that all this nationalist posturing by the Tories is actually harming the national interest. As this morning’s Guardian leader argues, it is marginalising Britain and diminishing its influence. But then the Tories are so short-sighted and unimaginative that symbols of national pride matter more to them than the substance of national influence.

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