With David Cameron facing the reality that he may be powerless to stop the appointment of Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker as the next president of the EU Commission (the top bureaucrat), the Daily Telegraph’s Tim Stanley, writing from (I think) what he would see as a moderately pro-EU point of view, seethes:
The situation is a damning indictment of David Cameron’s style of politics – and pro-Europeans here and abroad have every right to be angry at him. His approach to the EU has been dictated entirely by short-term domestic, party political concerns, with long-term consequences for our global position. Cameron took the Tories out of the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament in order to mollify the Tory Right and he promised an in/out referendum in order to win back Ukippers.
So far as I see it, the only problem with the Tories’ withdrawal from the EPP (the grouping of center-right parties within the EU Parliament) was the time that it took: the EPP is avowedly federalist, and that was not going to change. Asking a party that wanted less European integration to remain within a group that was always going to want more made no sense, and, no small thing, was a continuing insult to most Tory voters.
Back to Stanley:
British conservatives may regard each step as logical and patriotic, but from the centre-Right perspective in Europe these moves were illogical and destructive. Why, at a time when the EU needed to hold together in order to weather the greatest economic challenge in its history, is a British prime minister talking about referenda, devolution and red lines?
That’s easy. It’s because it’s what most of Cameron’s voters want. Democracy and all that. It’s worth adding that if other leaders in the EU (notably Germany) had paid more attention to what their voters wanted, the euro (and the destruction it has brought in its wake) could have been avoided. Stanley also appears to assume that the best thing now is for the euro zone is to stick together: it is not.
That said, Stanley goes on, quite reasonably, to attack the implausible nature of Cameron’s proposed ‘re-negotiation’ and then notes this:
The Eurosceptics owe Cameron a qualified vote of thanks. For he has, unwittingly, proven their case for them: the ambitions of Britain and the ambitions of the EU are so divergent now that it is impossible to reconcile them. Cameron seemed to imagine that, with a mix of charm and petulance, he could tease the Europeans into reform but his failure demonstrates that the UK cannot negotiate a unique relationship with the EU and cannot halt the drive towards further integration. And if we cannot get what we want, we cannot – by the terms that Cameron has laid out – stay.
Stanley seems to regret the direction that his logic is taking him, but that direction is the direction (at least in theory: more on that later).
Christopher Howarth of Open Europe (a group pursuing the impossible dream of reform/re-negotiation) adopts a very similar line of reasoning:
Imagine you woke up in a state where the head of the civil service was elected – but not by you. Imagine a state where the top governmental positions were settled in deals in meetings to which your elected representatives were not invited. Imagine that this system had been introduced without your approval. Well, you may soon be living in it if Jean-Claude Juncker becomes President of the European Commission.
…by appointing Juncker EU member states [would] have conceded the precedent that the European Parliament is now responsible for selecting the Commission President. This will politicise the Commission, and make it subject to perennial Brussels political deals between MEP factions. Juncker’s route to power has been paved by a series of such contradictory deals cut firstly with the Christian Democrat EPP; then the Socialist S&D; then, reportedly, the Socialist Prime Minister of Italy and French President – and allegedly the German mass circulation Bild newspaper. Needless to say, this bears no relation to the results of the recent European Elections and is a straightforward power grab. It is a cession of power not authorised or even discussed in the UK Parliament.
Howarth wants Cameron to play hardball. In his view Cameron has to succeed in securing EU reform (which, to repeat myself, is not going to happen) if he is to advocate an ‘in’ vote in the referendum the Tories have promised for 2017:
It is time others in the EU began to realise that and act accordingly, or it may be Out by default.
I doubt it. My guess is that, if it came to that point, the other member states would be prepared to call David Cameron’s bluff, knowing that the absence of a coherent exit strategy (EU Referendum’s Richard North has had plenty of sensible things to say about this over the years: here’s something from earlier today), can be used by the Labour Party and others to terrify British voters into remaining within Brussels’ increasingly oppressive fold.