Cherry-picking. Europe a la
carte. And from Madrid, a finger-waving admonition that "David Cameron
must understand he cannot pretend to renegotiate the treaties, and undo
what we have done, or slow the speed of the EU cruiser."
The Prime Minister vowed to settle the "European question" forever with
a referendum on Britain's EU membership by the end of 2017.
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard 27 Jan 2013
There speaks the old guard, still struggling to grasp the magnitude of
what has just happened. They offer no flicker of recognition that the EU
itself has over-reached disastrously and must learn to respect the
nation-state democracies if it is to survive at all.
For the first time since the Treaty of Rome in 1957 a country has
challenged the Monnet doctrine of ever-closer union. Some 180,000 pages
of "acquis communautaire" supposedly written in stone are being thrown
If Europe's leaders dig in their feet, there is a high likelihood that
Britain will walk away in 2017, setting off a complex chain-reaction in
the alliance system of Northwest Europe.
The first reflex has been to dismiss Mr Cameron's speech as an entirely
British act of perfidy, or as party intrigue to see off UKIP, or both.
But matters are not so simple.
Very large numbers of people across Europe agree with him, and that is a
greater danger for Brussels. The latest Eurobarometer surveys shows that
just 30pc of Europeans now have a "positive view" of the EU.
France's Vox Agora praised David Cameron for breaking the taboo and
igniting a pan-European debate, running a red-blooded headline: "towards
the end of European dictatorship?"
"The British prime minister has scored a bulls-eye," said the Frankurter
Allgemeine, Germany's most venerable newspaper. "Cameron is right: the
EU must be more flexible and competitive. The return of competences to
the national authorities must be made possible. The EU must be made more
democratic at long last."
Germany is in ferment as citizens awaken to danger that EMU bail-out
funds will shoe-horn their country into an EU fiscal union with shared
debts. To the extent that this is buttressed by the actions of the
European Central Bank -- bond purchases, bank liquidity, or Target2
imbalances -- it is more insidious since it amounts to fiscal union by
The Free Voter party won 10pc of votes in Bavaria with calls to block
the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), and this in turn has forced the
Bavarian Social Christians to harden their message, including demands
for a referendum on transfers of power to Brussels. Chancellor Angela
Merkel has her own "UKip problem".
So too does the French establishment. Marine Le Pen's Front National --
at 18pc in the polls -- is threatening the right-flank of the Gaullistes
with calls for an in/out referendum. President Francois Hollande's
Socialists face a parallel attack on the other side from the Left Front.
So too do Italy's mandarins. The triple
alliance of Beppe Grillo, Silvio Berlusconi, and the Northern League
commands 37pc of the vote on EU-bashing of one kind or another.
Holland, Finland, and Austria all have eurosceptic parties large enough
to upset politics. Austria's Freedom Party now wants an Alpine alliance
with Switzerland and a vote on EU-exit.
It is hard to know exactly what has caused
the dam to break. The failure of EMU has played its part. Half Europe is
trapped in depression, with 1930s levels of unemployment, deprived of
the policyt levers needed to extricate themselves. The gap in growth
between the US and Eurozone is running at 20-year highs of almost 3pc,
and looks likely to continue with powerful compound effects through much
of the decade.
I have long argued that the EU's refusal to respect the French and Dutch
`No' votes against the European Constitution in 2005 was the moment when
the Project crossed a line and lost its legitimacy, but everybody has
their own particular grievance. What lies behind the anger is the sense
that little can be done to redress it. You can vote out your government,
but you can't vote out the EU machinery.
It is well understood in Germany that EU fiscal union erodes the tax and
spending powers of the Bundestag and therefore must eviscerate German
democracy. As the ECB's retired prophet Otmar Issing keeps warning, this
is the issue over which the English Civil War was fought. It is not only
about money. It is about self-government.
The hot debate in Germany is perhaps why Mrs Merkel has refused to join
the chorus of attacks on David Cameron, instead holding out an olive
branch with talk of a "fair compromise". In Davos she went so far as to
embrace his message of deep reform.
The new political fact in EU affairs is the Anglo-German Entente, a
twist that has caught many by surprise. You could say this is raw trade
politics. Britain has become Germany's biggest trade partner,
over-taking France for the first time in the modern era.
Germany is looking beyond the EMU stagnation sphere, where its trade has
fallen from 46pc to 37pc in just over a decade. It has a spanking new
capital, just 80 miles for the Polish frontier, with an "Ossi"
Chancellor who grew up on the other side of the Iron Curtain, and is
moreover appalled by French foot-dragging on reform.
You could say too that Berlin does not much like the prospects of an EU
that gains Romania, Bulgaria, and soon the rest of the Balkans, and
loses a wealthy, free-trade, Atlantic ally. It is bad enough to be stuck
in EMU, outnumbered by a ring of mostly Latin states needing transfers
Yet there is another motive for seeking to win over David Cameron.
Germany's leaders feel unloved and are alarmed by their owned unwanted
power. Their modest national ambition is to make things, sell them,
prepare for Germany's aging crisis in five years time, play the piano,
and be a good neighbour.
Already faced with the burden of hegemony and all its painful
associations, the last thing they want is a British exit that would
drastically upset the EU balance of power.
What is surprising is that France has been so slow to face up to the
implications of a reunited Greater Germany. Everybody knows
Franco-German condominium is an illusion. It can no longer mask German
The EU has completely changed in any case with Nordic and Eastern
enlargement. There is no going back to the glory days when Emile NoŽl
was able to run the European Commission as an outpost of the French
civil service for thirty years, from 1957 to 1987, with the benign
acquescience of Bonn. That world has vanished for ever.
One might expect the French to bite their tongues and seek to bind the
British as closely to their side as they did in 1904, and again in the
1930s, for purely diplomatic purposes this time of course. Yet Mr
Hollande's first reaction to the Cameron speech was a tone-deaf reminder
that Britain must abide by its "obligations".
This may change. Finance minister Pierre Moscovici was more subtle,
admitting that the UK is "extremely useful" in the EU. The reality is
that British and French forces worked side by side with in the Balkans,
and again in Libya, and do so now in Mali. An Anglo-French military
union already exists.
There are some who will play to stereotypes. Spain's foreign minister
Josť Manuel Garcia-Margallo helpfully told us that Brexit would lead to
"terrible devastation" of our industries with nothing left but "a few
petty bankers" in xenophobic isolation.
I hardly have to remind readers that England is the only major nation
that happily lets foreigners run its football team and its central bank,
or lets the Spanish run its airports, or lets the Hong Kong Chinese run
the rail transport of its capital city. What Britons dislike is foreign
rule, not foreigners.
David Cameron has at last established this sentiment as British state
policy. My guess is that other leaders of Europe's historic nation
states will be forced by their own peoples to fix the limits of EU power
in a similar fashion.
If he has set that process in motion he may just help to save a European
Union worth saving.