As well as pointing out the flaws in Cameron’s diplomatic strategy, pro-Europeans should embrace an agenda of reform where there is much greater likelihood of progress (and no need for a new treaty). This should include pro-growth and pro-democracy measures as set out in IPPR’s recent publication ‘Staying In’ as well as a closer look at EU rules on state aid, corporate tax avoidance, and access to welfare for intra-European migrants.
After aborting his trip to Europe following the death of Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister is visiting Berlin today.
He aims to press upon his counterparts what he sees as the “wafer thin” nature of British support for EU membership and push for a new treaty to allow him to meet his commitment to hold an in-out referendum on a reformed relationship with the EU by the end of 2017.
The Prime Minister has spent his eight year tenure as Tory leader burning bridges rather than building alliances around Europe. He will find his belated diplomatic manoeuvring falls on deaf ears and is likely to come back disappointed.
Mr Cameron is “absolutely convinced” that treaty change will happen soon but EU expert, Charles Grant, wrote recently that:
“Recent meetings [in Berlin] with government officials and politicians have convinced me that Germany will not push for the kind of treaty that Cameron wants, at least not in time for his 2017 deadline.”
According to Grant, Angela Merkel told a Trilateral Commission in Berlin on March 15th that Europe does not need a major new treaty in order to become competitive. Francois Hollande, meanwhile, wants to avoid the need for his own referendum which would be prompted by a new treaty.
This view was echoed by several participants at a recent gathering at Chatham House held, appropriately, under the ‘Chatham House’ rule. One participant, with a background in international finance and diplomacy, said that big treaty renegotiation didn’t seem likely.
The FT reports today that, “All [Spain, France and Germany] regard Mr Cameron’s reform project with some scepticism as they grapple with more pressing problems in their own countries and within the eurozone.”
Even if there was a new treaty, it is unlikely that Cameron would get to “bring back” social and employment laws as called for in his party’s 2010 manifesto. A former UK diplomat and leading thinker on Britain’s relationship with the EU told the same group that Cameron had “zero prospect” of repatriating competences.
In any case, Merkel, Hollande and Rajoy should hold firm since British public opinion is not as bleak as Cameron paints. In the run up to Cameron’s totemic EU speech in January, public support shifted in favour of continued membership. YouGov’s Peter Kellner argued that, “the public mood is more pro-membership than for some years”.
Support has now slipped back but the January bounce suggested that when business leaders and civil society groups begin talking about the importance of the EU, public opinion shifts positively.
As well as pointing out the flaws in Cameron’s diplomatic strategy, pro-Europeans should embrace an agenda of reform where there is much greater likelihood of progress (and no need for a new treaty). This should include pro-growth and pro-democracy measures as set out in IPPR’s recent publication ‘Staying In’ as well as a closer look at EU rules on state aid, corporate tax avoidance, and access to welfare for intra-European migrants.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.