quinta-feira, 4 de fevereiro de 2016
David Cameron is his own worst enemy in EU talks
David Cameron is his own worst enemy in EU talks
His claim of Britain getting special treatment could hurt chances of winning backing for reform.
By TIM KING 2/4/16, 5:30 AM CET
David Cameron has been negotiating on the international stage since 2010, but its niceties still escape him. On Tuesday, after Donald Tusk had published the outline of what he calculated could be agreed by the European Council to keep the U.K. in the EU, Cameron contrived to make the deal harder to achieve.
On the face of it, Cameron was welcoming the draft deal, announcing that “strong, determined patient negotiation has achieved a good outcome for Britain.”
He added: “Sometimes people say to me, ‘If you weren’t in the European Union, would you opt to join the European Union?’ And today I can give a very clear answer: if I could get these terms for British membership, I sure would opt in to be a member of the European Union because these are good terms — and they are different to what other countries have.”
In that one, protracted sentence, Cameron perfectly illustrated why he is so frustrating to those in Brussels who want to see the United Kingdom remain part of the EU.
On the one hand, he made a step away from mind-befuddling talk of emergency brakes and red cards and protocols: He posed and answered in the affirmative the question, “Should the U.K. be part of the EU on these terms?”
Yet with his very next breath he undid what he had just said by adding, wholly unnecessarily, “and they are different to what other countries have.”
That additional claim suggests Cameron isn’t remotely ready for the game of three-dimensional chess that he is supposed to be playing.
Equal treatment is a crucial element in the current negotiations. The complexities about the emergency brake and the red card are necessary precisely because both Tusk and the European Commission have to maintain that they are introducing general principles available to each state.
That’s why Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission president, told MEPs that the proposed deal was “fair for the U.K. and fair for the other 27 member states.”
“Cameron seems to be laboring under the illusion that when he is in Britain he is protected by some kind of reflective mirror that means he can be seen only by those inside the country.”
By claiming special treatment, Cameron reduces his chances of winning the consent of the Central and East European states to Tusk’s proposals. Their citizens have watched successive governments labor to comply with the acquis — the accumulated body of EU law — and have repeatedly been told that EU membership is afforded to each member state on equal terms. Cameron’s counterparts around the Council table are entitled to demand equal terms and to deny Britain special treatment. So if Cameron has got special terms, he shouldn’t admit that to anyone outside the U.K..
Unfortunately, Cameron seems to be laboring under the illusion that when he is in Britain he is protected by some kind of reflective mirror that means he can be seen only by those inside the country. Although he used to be a spin doctor for an international media company (Carlton Television), he may not have realized that the English language and television are widely used beyond the U.K.’s borders.
Even if Cameron’s EU counterparts pretend not to have noticed, his claim that “what we have is different to what other countries have” may also prove corrosive to the prime minister’s cause inside Britain. In his own Conservative Party, Cameron is besieged by Euroskeptics who want the U.K. to take back more powers from Brussels. Defending himself against the charge that he should have got more significant concessions, Europe Minister David Lidington said that Britain is involved in an international negotiation. There are, he implied, constraints.
“The moment Cameron claims that exclusive special terms are available, he leaves himself vulnerable to questions about why he didn’t obtain something stronger.”
Now, while many of Cameron’s opponents are ideologically driven (e.g., ex-ministers Peter Lilley and John Redwood) and others have well-developed intellectual powers of self-deception (Boris Johnson), there are at least some who would recognize that, in seeking a revised EU settlement, Cameron did not have a free hand.
But the moment Cameron claims that exclusive special terms are available, he leaves himself vulnerable to questions about why he didn’t obtain something stronger.
Up to now, Cameron has been reluctant to take on the doubters. That rhetorical question — “would we sign up on these terms if we weren’t already in?” — is at least a respectable question, even if his answer still needs a lot of work. But he still seems loath to move away from the limited territory of the four-point negotiation (emergency brake and all) and to debate the true merits and demerits of EU membership.
Referendum message on track
Cameron’s spin doctors decided that he should deliver his first response to Tusk’s proposals away from Westminster. So the London press pack was shipped off to the market town of Chippenham, 100 miles west of London, to listen to Cameron speak at a Siemens factory. The message, lest you missed it, is that there are British jobs bound up with European companies such as Siemens.
There was a time when Chippenham did not depend on German investment for its engineering prowess. This year the town will mark the 175th anniversary of the opening of its railway station as part of the Great Western Railway. Both the station and the railway line were designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a hero of British engineering (albeit the son of a Frenchman).
Nowadays, Siemens’ premises in Chippenham have 700 staff who work for the division Siemens Rail Automation, which provides signal and train control systems for Britain’s railways. By an unhappy coincidence, because of signaling problems some trains between London and Bristol were diverted yesterday so as not to go through Chippenham — to the distress of some of those journalists visiting from London. After years of under-investment in the railways, there is plenty of potential business for Siemens.
Although a happy marriage between crumbling British infrastructure and German industry is most unlikely to win Cameron approval for Britain’s continued membership of the EU, that should not prevent him from explaining how British citizens and British companies benefit from their membership of the EU.
His arguments would be on firmer ground if they acknowledged that EU membership is supposed to be of mutual benefit to people across the entire EU. To argue that Britain has special, discriminatory benefits is both short-sighted and self-defeating.
Tim King writes POLITICO’s Brussels Sketch column.