Much is being made by the Tory political machine and its broadly loyal media here of the increased popularity that Prime Minister David Cameron is apparently enjoying after his defeat at the European Council of heads of government last week. Of course, it is not the defeat (namely the election of federalist Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission over Britain’s and Hungary’s opposition) that is being celebrated, but the tone of patriotic defiance that Cameron has struck since then. He will fight on the beaches, it seems, in order to ensure that Britain gets the powers that have been surrendered to Brussels returned to national parliaments. And we shouldn’t doubt his (or Britain’s) determination—the assumption in Cameron’s rhetoric is that they amount to the same thing—to win these elusive reforms. That would be downright unpatriotic.
In the face of such grandiloquence it seems almost quibbling to point out that the election of Juncker was a move in exactly the opposite direction to the reform of the European Union that Cameron espouses. And my old colleague and former Thatcher adviser, Robin Harris, makes delicious mincemeat of Cameron’s diplomacy in the Daily Mail here.
And if Cameron lost that additional step towards a federal Europe so decisively, what warrant have we for thinking that he will gain a series of much bigger steps in the opposite direction? Cameron set out to answer that skeptical question in last Sunday’s Telegraph here.
It is a fascinating exercise in squaring circles.
After a certain amount of noble-sounding throat-clearing — “the role our ancient Parliament plays . . . my job is to serve this country’s interest . . . it is possible to be isolated and to be right . . .” — he lays out his plan for dealing with Juncker in future: “If . . . we can agree that we are not heading, at different speeds, to the same place — as some have assumed up to now — then there is business we can do.”
Indeed Cameron argued that he had already begun to make progress in that direction: “And, importantly, we broke new ground on the issue of ‘ever closer union’, making clear that the wish of countries like Britain — who do not want to deepen integration — must be respected.”
But there was never any doubt that the wishes of countries like Britain that oppose deeper integration would be respected. Other governments debate these views seriously but they always vote them down. They want Britain to remain inside the EU, they always say flatteringly, but it must be a politically and economically integrated Europe. And they made clear last week yet again that the European Union is committed to the “ever closer union” that Cameron wants to reverse.
In an attempt to show respect for British anxieties that went slightly astray Angela Merkel even repeated the formula that Britain and others could arrive at ever-closer union by a slower speed: “There can be different speeds for member countries to adopt come to ever closer union . . . It was made clear, yet again, that the idea of an ever closer union as it is stated in the treaties does not mean that there is equal speed among member countries.”
That, of course, is the very formula that Cameron rejected in the quotation above. If we set the statements by Cameron and Merkel side by side, they establish clearly that there is no business that the two national leaders can do in the sense of making the EU comfortable to Britain since it is not possible to centralize and decentralize power and authority at the same time. If the country remains in the EU, it will eventually end up in a federal European state or some simulacrum of one.
Of course, such logic will not restrain them from doing business: Merkel will pretend to offer concessions to the Brits and Cameron will pretend that they meet his conditions. But the events of the last week look like ensuring that even the Tory machine and its supporting media claque will be unable to conceal that it is Kabuki theater of a sadly amateur kind.