Cameron trapped between Tory dinosaurs & Lib Dem enthusiasts on Europe

Mr Cameron has to dampen the EU fervour of the Lib Dems and dampen the rampant scepticism of the dinosaurs in his party, meaning weak pragmatism rules.

A little more than half a page of the Coalition Programme for Government deals with Britain’s relations with the European Union and, like much of the rest of the coalition deal, the EU policy combines soothing words and a mixture of Conservative and Lib Dem policy commitments.

Brussels, for a brief fortnight, enthused about the prospect of strong Lib Dem representation at Europe’s top table when Clegg excelled in the leadership debates, and will be content with the smooth language that softens the edge of Tory Euroscepticism, talking of Britain being a “positive participant in the European Union, playing a strong and positive role with our partners”.

After the positive introduction come essentially Conservative paragraphs about avoiding ceding powers to Brussels and the need for a referendum about any new transfer of powers. After the debacle of the Treaty of Lisbon there’s little or no prospect of a new treaty in the next five years anyway.

The commitment to not join, or attempt to join the euro has drawn some comment, especially in light of Cameron’s meeting with Sarkozy. But with Europe in the throes of the Greek debt crisis could even the most ardent Europhile possibly advocate entry into the Euro at this stage?

The other proposals – to defend the UK’s interests in budget negotiations (yet without a serious commitment to cut agriculture spending), and to approach justice and home affairs matters on a case by case business are little different from Labour’s approach when it was in government. Yet if there is no clear difference in terms of policy outcomes, will there be any difference in terms of leadership and engagement of ministers in Brussels?

Gordon Brown never managed to shed his reputation from his time as Chancellor – reading papers while others were speaking and not playing corridor diplomacy effectively. Cameron may manage the latter with greater aplomb but with the Tory MEPs outside the European People’s Party it will take some time for the government to overcome other leaders’ suspicions.

Certainly the chances of UK leadership in Europe, as advocated by Simon Jenkins in The Guardian, are very, very slim. Cameron has to dampen the EU fervour of the Lib Dems and dampen the rampant scepticism of the dinosaurs in his party, meaning that weak pragmatism is the best we will see from the government’s EU policy.

Jon Worth has a background in EU policy work and communications and is based in Brussels and London. He writes one of the longest running blogs about Britain’s relations with the EU; follow him on Twitter: @jonworth

11 Responses to “Cameron trapped between Tory dinosaurs & Lib Dem enthusiasts on Europe”

  1. Gareth Lewis Shelton

    RT @leftfootfwd Cameron trapped between Tory dinosaurs & Lib Dem enthusiasts on Europe: http://bit.ly/blyNK2

  2. Look Left – The Week in Fast Forward | Left Foot Forward

    […] Left Foot Forward’s team of experts has assessed the coalition’s policies, comparing them to manifesto committments and examining how progressive they are. The policy areas we have looked at are: – Europe […]

  3. Mr. Sensible

    “After the debacle of the Treaty of Lisbon there’s little or no prospect of a new treaty in the next five years anyway.”

    Jon, I heard last week on the Politics Show that an amendment was being considered to the Lisbon Treaty to give EU countries several new MEPs, including 1 for the UK.

    Either way, the debt crisis is going to put the new government’s stance on Europe to the test; the Germans are keen to get something going, but Cameron doesn’t seem to want British involvement. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8697360.stm

    Watch this space.

  4. Jon Worth

    @Mr Sensible – you’re right, technically. But allowing 754 MEPs between now and June 2014 (rather than the 751 originally stipulated in the Treaty of Lisbon) does not equate to a transfer of power or sovereignty to the EU. Having said that I don’t know why they really have to bother with this change…

    I agree debt issues will cause tensions in the coalition but, as I have argued, the starting point is rather smooth and uneventful.

  5. Modicum

    The commitment not to join the euro is pretty irrelevant as that won’t be a prospect in the next five years anyway.

    The new law that will require a referendum before “any new transfer of powers” to the EU-level is much more significant. I think it will be politically difficult for any future parliament to repeal it, so the referendum requirement may be permanent.

    I think the sudden conversion of the Tory party to the importance of referendums is highly suspect.

    It is also strange to single out EU treaties alone. There will continue to be no legal requirement to hold a referendum on any other constitutional issue, such as the House of Lords, electoral reform, fundamental human rights, becoming a republic, etc.

  6. Timoi

    “It is also strange to single out EU treaties alone”.

    I disagree. This country has voted for all the people that are currently in our government so they’ve basically already been chosen by the public. This is compared to the European Union where the UK has only voted for about 10% of all the MEPs in the EU.

    Of course referendums on national constitutional issues would always be welcome, but it is far more important to monitor and control what the 90% of the MEPs that no one in the UK voted for might be doing to affect us.

  7. Mr. Sensible

    John, irrespective of the transfer of powers question, that amendment would have to be ratified, which could lead the Tory right to try and reopen the referendum question again.

  8. Jon Worth

    @Mr Sensible – see this from Open Europe. They would normally look for any reason to bash the EU but can’t see that being doable on this technical matter for the extra MEPs. We’ll see, but I think the Tory sceptics will keep their powder dry for bigger fights than this one.

  9. Lord Pont

    The Euro as we know it today won’t exist in 5 years time. German voters will see to that. Whether there is a north euro or not is a different question.

    We won’t be joining any currency in my lifetime.

  10. Modicum

    @Timoi:

    To show whats a bit wrong with your argument let me rephrase it.

    “This continent has voted for all the people that are currently in the European Parliament so they’ve basically already been chosen by the public. This is compared to the UK where Cornwall has only voted for about 1% of all the MPs in the British Parliament.

    “Every UK law should be put to a referendum in Cornwall because it is very important to monitor and control what the 99% of the MPs that no one in Cornwall voted for might be doing to affect them.”

    I have no doubt that in your view the important thing is that UK should have a special sovereign status that neither the EU nor any English region is entitled to. But if that’s your position you should state so explicitly and give some actual reasons why.

    The argument you make above is just a tendentious exercise in question-begging.

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