Cameron is showing refreshing pragmatism on Turkey and Europe

David Cameron’s stance on Europe and the European Union seems to have turned on its head in recent weeks; earlier this week, he used his meeting with the Turkish prime minister to state Turkey’s case for EU membership – a crucially important issue for both Turkey and the future of the EU.

David Cameron’s stance on Europe and the European Union seems to have turned on its head in recent weeks. In his leadership bid he secured the support of many of his party’s ultra-eurosceptics by promising to remove the Tory MEPs from the EPP on the grounds that the centre-right EPP was ‘too federalist’. Then he appeared to delay on that promise once elected, only establishing the weak ECR group following the 2009 European elections.

Meanwhile, he offered strident opposition to the Lisbon Treaty – he and William Hague seemed set to hold a post-ratification referendum until November 2009; then, when Lisbon was ratified, he pledged to claim back the UK opt-out on EU social policy legislation, and a referendum on all future treaties.

In government he seems to have changed, in part because of the Coalition agreement which reversed Tory policy on EU social policy legislation, and is showing pragmatism and, dare I say it, conviction.

Following the sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone which revealed gaping flaws in Europe’s economic governance, Cameron has not attacked the euro (unlike his eurosceptics and much of the right-wing press) and seems open to the prospect of new EU supervision and surveillance of its Member States’ public finances.

In a clever piece of diplomacy, his first state visit was to meet with France’s Nikolas Sarkozy, and following his first meeting last week with President Obama, he visited India with a view to creating a ‘special relationship’ between Britain and India. This makes political sense – Britain has long ignored the importance of its relationships with countries other than the US – and economic sense, since the US is not going be taking British exports any time soon.

And earlier this week, he used his meeting with the Turkish prime minister to state Turkey’s case for EU membership – a crucially important issue for both Turkey and the future of the EU.

Admittedly, Cameron may be indulging in a spot of political ‘kite flying’, since EU membership talks have stalled over the situation in divided Cyprus. As Sarkozy is opposed to Turkish membership, and factions of Angela Merkel’s CDU are opposed to Turkish membership on the spurious grounds that the EU is a ‘Christian’ club – conveniently ignoring the millions of European Muslims and the long history of European Islam – Turkey is unlikely to be joining the EU soon.

Nonetheless, Cameron has made a strong case for Turkey and, bravely in my view, stated that the EU is a ‘secular organisation’. This will put him at odds with many Christian Democrats in Europe, and with many in his own party, who are split on enlargement in general and Turkey in particular. Many Tory MEPs oppose Turkish EU membership, while this survey of their MEP candidates reveals a party divided on the issue.

It’s still early days, but Cameron may have been an ultra-sceptic in opposition, so much so that Merkel and Sarkozy were worried at the prospect of his election, but in government he is proving much more of a McMillan or Heath than a Thatcher.

The question is: how he will square that with a Tory party that is more eurosceptic than ever before?

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