December 12, 2011
Since the decision by David Cameron at last week’s summit to have no part in a new treaty, the media has been full of opinions about whether it was a good or bad thing.
I find it hard to believe that anyone knows the real impact or cost, and it may take years – or perhaps even decades – to know for sure.
What I am pretty sure of though, is that Europe owes David Cameron a big pat on the back.
It seems to me that Cameron was simply being realistic. If he had returned to London with an agreement to participate in a new treaty, it may have caused the coalition government to collapse. It may also have made him unelectable by both his party and the British people. It would also have likely forced the EU referendum that most British politicians fear so much.
Let’s be clear, in the current climate, the UK government could not have won any referendum that asked a positive question about Europe.
And if a new treaty forced referenda in other EU countries, it is hard to imagine them flying through. Could you imagine a treaty change passing currently in Spain? Portugal? Ireland? Finland? Greece? Or Germany?
There are no guarantees in that list. If I understood national politics better in the East I could probably find more examples. It is difficult not to have the feeling that many of those 26 other leaders were being a little unrealistic in wanting to sign up to a new treaty.
The possible ramifications of several unsuccessful referenda at almost identical times would have been catastrophic for delicate bond markets and probably fatal for the euro. What it might mean for the European Union, who knows?
Could it have caused the unravelling of the European Union? Or for a country to leave? It is impossible to know, but perhaps. Alas, by removing the need for all these referenda, Europe fails once again to strengthen the case for it’s own democratic legitimacy.
Additionally, it would all need to happen virtually immediately. The negotiations for the Lisbon Treaty started in 2001 but the document was not signed until December 2007 and then did not come into force until December 2009. Could the Merkozy proposal have really worked so quickly?
In contrast, David Cameron’s realpolitik does seem to have saved considerable headaches for the other 26 members. They do not need to go to the polls to find out just how angry their voters are with them, and they will forever have the luxury of pointing a finger at the UK. They owe the fall guy their thanks.financialguy