The PM's veto in Brussels shows he is a child of Thatcher, but without her strategic sense.
By Edward McMillan-Scott
At about 3.30 on the morning of David Cameron's fateful decision to veto a new EU treaty to sustain the euro, the PM apparently called George Osborne. Osborne is not only chancellor but was also Cameron's chief tactician and adviser during the opposition years. I sat on his election strategy committee. I suspect that Cameron not only discussed the economic implications of a veto, but also the politics – and especially the effect on the coalition and the chances of winning a 'Union Jack' election outright on a eurosceptic manifesto. Then he went back into the EU summit, exercised his veto – and only then called Nick Clegg.
Besides Clegg's bitter dissapointment, those others chiefly outraged were Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, who had earlier issued a joint call for robust action: "Alongside the single currency, a strong economic pillar is indispensable, building on enhanced governance to foster fiscal discipline as well as stronger growth and enhanced competitiveness." It must also be stated that Cameron's decision took the political heat off 'Merkozy', whose failure over months to agree on an enhanced role for the European Central Bank and other EU institutions is largely responsible for the continuing crisis. After ten summits, and another 'historic' one coming up end of January, we still do not have the economic and fiscal union we need to turn the tide.
Continental and Irish leaders are mostly holding their tongues in public but Cameron's perverse decision is widely noted, especially his claim that he was protecting "other interests" – meaning the City. But now Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the IMF, has said the escalating crisis must be addressed as "collectively as possible". Without action, the world faces the spectre of a 1930s-style depression and Nicolas Sarkozy has described Cameron as an "obstinate kid". The same source reported Sarkozy's low opinion of Cameron at their first meeting.
David Cameron's lack of friends in Europe is his choice – and it is not in the national interest. Although British officials will be at the table when urgent negotiations for a new treaty begin, they will have no vote.
During his leadership campaign in 2005 Cameron gave a pledge to Eurosceptic parliamentarians that he would withdraw from the European People's Party (EPP) – the family of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, away from 74 member parties and the biggest group in the European Parliament. At the time I was a Conservative MEP and described the move as "ideological nonsense". Conservative MEPs are now marginalised and Cameron is no longer invited – as previous Tory leaders were - to functions organised by the EPP's transnational party, such as the pre-summit gathering of the 16 EPP heads of government in Marseilles last month. With that 2005 pledge, he started the process of alienating Britain from power.
The pledge to split from the EPP was given to a group of members of the 'Better Off Out’ movement. Even Cameron excluded them from jobs as shadow spokesmen. David Davis, another leadership contender and a Eurosceptic, refused to make the pledge because he had been Europe minister under John Major and knew the value of the European political families.
Those who know how Europe works predicted that, in government, Cameron would need the network: how right we were. But it's not only Cameron who is isolated. His ministers, diplomats and MEPs now lack any serious political network too. Whereas the political family of Nick Clegg (and now mine too) is in government in a dozen EU countries, and there are nine liberal EU commissioners, Cameron's only formal EU ally is the Czech premier. When EPP or socialist ministers caucus before the monthly meetings of say, internal market ministers, Britain's Conservatives sit alone.
The Briton in Europe with the most influence on our economic future is Sharon Bowles, a LibDem MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s economics committee. While she remains there (her position is under threat by a Lib Dem colleague standing as an unofficial candidate for president of the European Parliament) she will oversee all EU economic legislation. Sharon was right to say on today's BBC Radio 4 World at One that "we should swim together rather than sink separately". Cameron's new group in the European parliament – the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group - was described in a thunderous editorial as a "shoddy and shaming alliance" by the Economist and by Nick Clegg during the pre-election TV leaders' debates as "a bunch of nutters, anti-Semites, homophobes and climate-change deniers". Cameron gave the task of forming the ECR – the brainchild of former 'Campaign for an Independent Britain' member, Daniel Hannan MEP – to Essex man personified, Mark Francois MP. Francois assured us that he had done "due diligence" on the new partners and we gave him the benefit of the doubt that they would come from "mainstream conservative" parties. However, when the composition of the ECR was announced after the European election in June 2009, a quick Google of its MEPs' backgrounds showed far-right extremism. My protest led to me joining the LibDems. I noted that Francois’s House of Commons email address was ‘Francoism@parliament.uk’. Quite.
Can Cameron get by with this isolationist stance? I believe so. Is his nationalism in the national interest? No, of course not. Official figures show that 3.5 million UK jobs depend on the single market. Will it lead to the collapse of the Coalition? Probably. Will it lead to the breakup of the EU? No, but it might contribute to the breakup of the United Kingdom because Scotland has different aspirations. I have called Cameron an "unprincipled spiv". It is worse: he is a child of Thatcher without her strategic sense, a danger to our country.
Edward McMillan-Scott (LD, Yorkshire & Humber) is a Vice-President of the European Parliament. He was leader of the Conservative MEPs 1997 - 2001
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