European Affairs

Perspective--Cameron’s Dangerous Game with the EU     Print Email


 David Cameron is playing political football with the most important European achievement after the wars - and although he is doing so for home consumption he is dangerously appealing to popularism elsewhere.


This requires "einen Fakten Check" - a thorough and down- to-earth check of what is true and what is political hot air - in relation to the existing treaties, as Giles Merritt started to do in his summary on Cameron's five principles.

If the Prime Minister is serious on his "principles" he could easily arrive at the conclusion that the straight option would be to fully and actively use the many innovations in the Lisbon treaty (such as the subsidiarity test in Art 5 Treaty of the European Union (TEU) and its Protocol No.2 which enables national parliaments to block non-complying draft legislative acts. How often has the House of Commons used this prerogative or is it not made aware of it?).

The second option, of course, is treaty change, with all the imponderables attached to such a process, starting with clearly formulated "proposals" which Art. 48 TEU enables "the Government of any Member State to submit to the Council". However, to request individual (country specific) opt outs from Part Three TFEU (Internal Market and related internal policies) would be a no-go, as would be a proposal to scrap "ever closer Union", the founding element at the core of the integration process, and to replace it with something equivalent to "ever looser cooperation".

His third option, renegotiation of the UK's position first, and an in/out referendum thereafter, obviously runs against the spirit and the text of another Lisbon acquis, the novel, first-ever withdrawal clause with its orderly procedure laid down in Art. 50 TEU. In all logic, the Cameron speech amounts to arguing for continuing UK membership in a different, renegotiated, Union. Therefore, Art. 50 applies ex officio, and requires as a first (not a last) step the notification of the UK's intention to withdraw, followed (and not preceded) by the negotiation of the UK's "future relationship" with the EU. Cameron's "sauce hollandaise" (the speech was originally to be delivered in the NL) creates an unhelpful untransparent mix.

Two more philosophical remarks: the speech was given almost on the day of the 50th anniversary of De Gaulle's first veto of UK membership on 14 January 1963 (a speech I listened to "live" as a student in France). At the time, I profoundly disagreed with De Gaulle, but - as Jacques Delors told me recently - Cameron happens to validate the General's characterization of the UK's geopolitical self understanding. Besides, it was already under Churchill's last premiership in the early 1950s that the UK declined an invitation to join the ECSC negotiations.

And, on a historic note, I am reminded of Lloyd George's undiplomatic and ill-advised remark to Weimar Germany's Gustav Stresemann in the 1920s: "You are in the League of Nations, but you are not of the League of Nations". How elegant a way to describe the UK’s position in today's EU!

This article was originally published by Friends of Europe.

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