Throughout the day on Left Foot Forward we will be reporting the European reaction to David Cameron’s Europe speech this morning:
Arguably the most withering reaction to the prime minister’s speech comes from Der Spiegel’s Christoph Scheuermann – calling him “Europe’s scaredy-cat”.
We end this round-up with Scheuermann’s scathing summary:
Fear drove David Cameron to promise Britain a referendum on EU membership. Fear of his party, fear of voters, and fear of the EU itself, which he neither fully understands nor has ever really been interested in. He wants Europe to be a free trade zone with beach access. He missed an opportunity on Wednesday to haul Britain back to the centre of Europe.
In Britain, the golden rule of giving speeches is this: Whatever you do, don’t be boring. Why did David Cameron forget that?
The British prime minister missed a great opportunity when he on Europe on Wednesday. He could have pulled his country from the periphery of the Continent back to the center. He could have proved that Britain’s international clout is more important to him than getting patted on the back by his friends in the Conservative Party. He could at the very least have surprised his audience on this ice-cold Januaray day in London. But he didn’t even do that.
Instead, Cameron promised a referendum on Britain’s European Union membership after the next general election – if he wins it. The referendum isn’t a replacement for a true strategy on Europe. It merely represents an attempt to shake off a troublesome issue by postponing it to a later date.
The important questions still haven’t been answered. What exactly does Britain expect of Europe? What laws and regulations does Cameron want to change? What parts of the treaty does he want to opt out of? And above all: How in heaven’s name does Cameron propose to persuade the German chancellor, the French president and all the other European leaders that he should get to pick the raisins from the cake while everyone else gets the crumbs? Britain should remain in the EU, says Cameron, but he doesn’t say under what conditions.
The essence of his speech was “yes, but”…
Cameron’s vision of Europe is a free trade area with access to the beaches of the Mediterranean. Beyond that, he doesn’t associate the project with a past or a future. Apart from vague demands like competitiveness, flexibility and fairness, he has no idea how the EU should develop. His thinking on Europe is indecisive and chained to the present. What Europe witnessed on Wednesday was a speech delivered by a politician prone to knee-jerk reactions who lacks values or a vision. He lacks gravity. Cameron floats above Europe like an astronaut.
He’s isolated partly because his interest in Europe stems from fear rather than any desire to shape it. He’s driven by fear of the euroskeptics in his party, of the voters, of the populist United Kingdom Independence Party and of the strange Brussels behemoth which Cameron feels threatened by because he doesn’t understand it.
His party still hasn’t forgiven him for failing to clinch an absolute majority in the last election. They see the coalition with the Liberal Democrats as a humiliation. The EU is their way of exacting revenge on Cameron for that. It’s part of the reason why Cameron sees Europe mainly as a party political problem.
By trying to satisfy his radical backbenchers with the referendum pledge, he’s launched into a game he can’t win. The EU’s other 26 governments won’t let him opt out of parts of the existing accords because that would prompt others to demand concessions of their own. The Europe-haters in Cameron’s party won’t be satisfied because the leeway they want from Brussels isn’t politically achievable.
What makes it all the sadder is that even though Cameron’s motives are wrong, the timing of his speech is spot on. Britain has been waging a lively debate on Europe for months and one would wish that Germany and other countries showed similar passion – though perhaps not such bitterness – on the issue.
Europe must dare to address the fundamental questions, not despite the crisis but because of it. Cameron is right to question the growing budget of the European Commission, the EU’s executive. How can one explain to the Spaniards, Greeks and Portuguese that Brussels should get more money while they are being subjected to cutbacks? And Cameron is also right to point to the lack of democracy in EU decision-making.
One could almost be inclined to take the speech seriously, if one didn’t know how bored and passionless Cameron has been about the European debate in the past.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann has described Cameron’s position as “not a serious policy”, as Der Standard reports:
Criticism also comes from Chancellor Werner Faymann (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs). Europe needs reforms, this would need to be widely discussed at a convention, calls Faymann. But to go from a lack of willingness to compromise in an isolation, as Cameron suggests now, is the wrong approach.
“This is not a serious policy that is not in the interest of the citizens and the economy of Europe and not in the interests of citizens and the UK economy,” said the Chancellor.
Portugal’s Partido Socialista has expressed “deep disappointment” over the prime minister’s speech, as Jornal de Notícias reports:
“It was with deep disappointment that we received the speech about the EU by prime minister David Cameron,” said the national secretary for International Relations and Cooperation of the PS, João Ribeiro Assumption, today, sending a letter to the Ambassador of the UK in Portugal, Jill Gallard.
Danish prime minsiter Helle Thorning-Schmidt says she does not share Cameron’s views, saying the European Union “is not a help-yourself table”, telling Berlingske Tidende:
“We believe that we serve Danish interests best by being close to the heart of Europe, by making a difference every day in a constructive way and that way we get our voice heard in Europe. In this way, the two countries, who are friends and strong allies in many ways, chosen different paths in relation to European cooperation…
“As I see it, Europe is strongest if the 27 countries stick together. This applies in relation to the internal market, but it also applies to other things. If we are to be effective in combating cross-border pollution and crime, social dumping, get more growth and jobs in Europe, I do not doubt for a second of doubt we can do this most effectively by working together…
“Now it is up to the British to find out which position they want in the EU, but I do not think the EU will be stronger if each country can tailor their membership, and if we destroy the core, which should be common in the EU.”
In Italy, La Repubblic’s Enrico Franceschini says Cameron is “pushing for a Europe not integrated politically”.
Watch his report here.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said other EU states “have different wishes”, adding Europe’s leaders “must find a fair compromise”:
“Germany, and I personally, want Britain to be an important part and an active member of the European Union.
“We are prepared to talk about British wishes but we must always bear in mind that other countries have different wishes and we must find a fair compromise. We will talk intensively with Britain about its individual ideas but that has some time over the months ahead.”
Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer says Cameron “should read Churchill”, accusing the Tories of living in “ideological fantasy worlds” and calling the PM’s tactics “dangerous”.
He writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung:
“For the astonishment of observers is every indication that the European chain could not break at its weakest link, but where there is irrationality – in the UK that is.
“Ironically, the United Kingdom. Ironically, the motherland of pragmatism and realism, the country of an unshakable firmness in its principles and at the same time the high adaptability to changing circumstances in the country that has given up in stoic silence its empire, going from alone and later with his allies in Europe freedom against Nazi -Germany had successfully defended.
“Ironically, this country is lost now, in the midst of the worst crisis in Europe, in the ideological fantasy worlds a euro-skeptic Conservative Party…
“But there is much to suggest that the price of the British Conservative referendum will trigger only difficult to control dynamics that could end in an unwanted withdrawal of Britain from the EU. For the EU, an exit of Britain would not just be a serious setback for the British, but a veritable disaster.
“Certainly, the UK would also be able to survive without EU membership. The question arises, how this would look. Because Britain would harm through the exit its economic and geopolitical interests in Europe on the hardest. There would be no more common market with Europe, the financial centre of London would be weakened, and the “special relationship”, the special relationship with the United States would suffer.”
Channel Four News’s Gary Gibbon reports the German Ambassador to the UK “played with his pen” while others in the audience clapped at the end of the speech:
“I watched to see the German ambassador’s reaction to the speech. He was sitting in the second row under Mr Cameron’s nose.
“It was he that hosted the briefing by the Merkel CDU loyalist and Europe Committee chair Gunther Krichbaum two weeks ago when Mr Krichbaum warned David Cameron against ‘blackmailing other states’ in the EU.
“As others applauded at the end of David Cameron’s speech today the German ambassador played with his pen.”
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle has said “cherry picking is not an option”, in response to Cameron’s speech, as Reuters reports:
Germany wants Britain to remain a full member of the European Union but London cannot expect just to pick and choose the aspects of membership that it likes, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Wednesday.
Westerwelle was speaking shortly after British Prime Minister David Cameron promised in a long-awaited speech to give Britons a straight referendum choice on whether to stay in the EU or leave, provided he wins an election due in 2015.
“Germany wants the United Kingdom to remain an active and constructive part of the European Union… But cherry picking is not an option,” Westerwelle told reporters, adding that Europe needed more, not less, integration.
Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt has warned of the madness of a “28-speed Europe”, saying Europe’s nations can only succeed “if we work together”.
“Sweden has a deep strategic interest in a strong, competitive and open European Union. Fundamentally it’s about our peace and prosperity.
“Soon we Europeans will be only 7% of global population. We can only promote our values and protect our interests if we work together.
“Flexibility sounds fine, but if you open up to a 28-speed Europe, at the end of the day there is no Europe at all. Just a mess.
“Cameron: ‘We are more powerful in Washington, in Beijing, in Delhi because we are a powerful player in the European Union.’ Yes, so far…”
President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz says the speech was “more about domestic politics”, adding that we need to “focus on jobs and growth”.
“We need a #UK as a fully fledged member not harbouring in the port of Dover. UK can shape #EU by working with its partners.
“#Cameron’s Europe à la carte not an option. We have to focus on jobs&growth rather than getting lost in treaties discussions.
“PM Cameron’s speech was more about domestic politics than European reality, more to Eurosceptic parts of Tory party than UK’s partners.”
El Pais says the prime minister has “decided to open Pandora’s box in Europe”, describing his final words as “more like a threat than a commitment”:
Despite their good words and proclamations that his country wants to remain part of the EU, the proposal is a huge gamble in which you play the stability of Europe. And probably, or perhaps especially, from their point of view, their personal future and the fate of the Conservatives in the next election.
Until now had always rejected the possibility of calling a referendum on staying in or out of Europe. At best it seemed hope for is to renegotiate the UK’s position in the EU and to submit the results of that package to the British. But that strategy had two major drawbacks: on the one hand in the air left what would happen if voters rejected that agreement, on the other, was in danger of not tackling the rise of anti-EU party UKIP, who threatens to steal many votes in the conservative and thus facilitate Labour victory in 2015.
And that, the rise of UKIP, the only thing that has changed in recent months. So the change in position of Cameron seems to be explained mainly because of interest and party.
Le Figaro reports former PM Laurent Fabius’s remarks that you cannot “make Europe a la carte”:
“We hope that the British could make a positive contribution to Europe,” he said. But “Europe admit that this is a football club we joined this club, but once you’re in, we can not say we play rugby.” “It is dangerous for Britain itself, because Britain out of Europe (it will be) difficult,” said Laurent Fabius.
“The other day I attended a meeting with British businessmen and I told them:” Listen, if Britain decides to leave Europe, we will be rolling out the red carpet”, quipped M. Fabius, in response to his British counterpart who said he was ready to roll out the red carpet for companies fleeing tax in France.
Die Welt reports FDP chief Alexander Graf Lambsdorff saying “the EU must not itself be blackmailed”:
For the highly indebted Britain a departure from the EU would be economically catastrophic. Fifty per cent of British exports flow into the community. Many companies from overseas use the location as a bridge in London in the EU.
So for Cameron and his Euro-skeptics “cherry-picking” would be the most sympathetic of all solutions: Yes to the internal market, no to the many commitments that the EU brings with it no matter how. The outgoing Euro group chief, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, said: The EU would be “completely unreadable” when individual nations ausscherten from various areas.