Cam’s Euro U-turn – this is what happens when you fail to negotiate

by Stephen Tall on January 28, 2012

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth today on the right as evidence emerges that David Cameron is backsliding on his ‘veto’ preventing the European Union from enforcing fiscal integration among the Eurozone countries. Here’s how The Guardian reports it:

Ahead of Monday’s summit of EU leaders, which is due to finalise “political agreement” on the fiscal compact treaty, the government signalled that it would not challenge a role for the European commission and, more sensitively, would also allow resort to the European court of justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg to enforce new debt ceilings and fines for fiscal miscreants in the eurozone. ..

Cameron is understood to have made it clear to José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European commission, in a telephone call on Wednesday that Britain would no longer object to using the ECJ to enforce the new treaty. … Cameron’s concession marks a significant watering down of his previous position and represents a victory for Nick Clegg, who has been urging the prime minister to recover ground after wielding the veto. The deputy prime minister lobbied hard inside Whitehall for Cameron to drop his objections to the use of EU institutions to enforce the compact.

There’s good reason for Nick Clegg’s stance. The only way the UK would be able forcibly to prevent Eurozone countries from making use of the European court of justice would to challenge it in the courts. Legally there’s no guarantee such a challenge would work. And politically it would pit the UK against the vast majority of its neighbours who have signed-up to use the ECJ — not a smart move.

Mr Cameron has landed the UK in neither a winning nor an attractive position. But that is what happens when — as the Prime Minister did in December — you issue an ultimatum without laying the necessary groundwork, and then walk out of the negotiations before you can gain any concessions.

Of course, none of this may now matter to Mr Cameron. His ‘veto’, however unintentional, earned him rave reviews from his backbenchers and the right-wing media, and is credited with providing the Tories with the polling boost that has seen them overtake Labour, piling more pressure on the beleaguered Ed Miliband. That just a few weeks later the Prime Minister now backs down over technicalities such as the ECJ, which few will understand or care about, will probably matter little to the political mood music.

But the stark truth of the matter is that Mr Cameron’s cack-handed negotiating has delivered nothing of lasting significance for the UK.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.