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David Cameron and Europe
By Denise Milizia (on 21/03/2011 @ 23:49:15, in News, read 2760 times)


Europe: it's back
David Cameron’s strategy for avoiding EU trouble falls foul of events


BRITAIN is not about to walk out of the European Union. Opponents of EU integration may dream, but—in the near or medium term—no British government will risk a withdrawal in cold blood, in hopes of securing cut-price associate membership.

Yet there is a non-trivial chance that Britain might fall out of the EU one day. Such a falling-out would involve a hasty withdrawal from a Europe that had taken an impossibly unpalatable turn. The chances of such a messy crisis are rising. Should Britain end up out of the union, some years hence, historians may look back at two events of the present: a European Union bill currently before Parliament, and Brussels summits planned for March 11th.

Britain’s new European bill requires a referendum on any new treaty that would transfer powers from Britain to the EU. Ministers have given themselves some wriggle room—governments always do—but not that much. Because almost any European referendum would be lost in Britain (apart, perhaps, from an in-or-out vote), the effect is to bolt Britain firmly to the union’s legal status quo. Yet at the same time, thanks to the existential crisis facing the single currency, Europe’s tectonic plates are in motion.

Ask David Cameron how sustainable his strategy feels. His timetable for March 11th goes like this: a morning summit for all 27 EU leaders, enduring the worst sort of footling Brussels misery: a windy address from the boss of the European Parliament, a “family photo” with colleagues, then a working lunch to debate the tumult in north Africa (expect unimportant conclusions about this important subject). After press conferences, Britain’s prime minister will head for home, leaving his 17 euro-zone colleagues to hold a serious, substantive discussion about economic co-ordination within a “pact for the euro” (see Charlemagne).

In 2008, when a first summit reserved for euro-zone leaders was called by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, it was termed an emergency and Britain’s then prime minister, Gordon Brown, was allowed to attend, exceptionally. To soothe the uninvited, a second and third were presented as ad-hoc responses to market turmoil. This being the fourth euro-zone summit, however, it is starting to look like a habit. That is a victory for the French, and a concession by Germany. France has long wanted more decisions taken by the euro zone, which is smaller and excludes some loud voices for free-market liberalism, such as Britain and several Nordic and ex-communist countries. For the same reasons Germany (which likes to cast a deciding vote between free-market and statist arguments) wanted Britain in the room. But shortly after he came to power, Mr Cameron told Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, that Britain would stand aloof from deeper integration aimed at shoring up the euro. That was at once a perfectly rational reading of British domestic politics, and a decision that pushed Germany into the arms of the French.