Some weeks ago, there was a huge pile-up on the M5 in southwest England. The accident left seven dead, and 50 vehicles wrecked, the culprit being a deep fog. But that disaster is nothing compared to the one the UK Tory Party is heading for on the issue of Europe, and it may well take the EU with it in the process. That’s the only reasonable assessment you can make of today’s events, in which David Cameron’s rivals and enemies came out almost immediately to make as much trouble as they could.
Cameron had set the pace with an article in The Times this morning, after a day of general confusion yesterday, in which the Tory Party centre scrambled to deal with the challenge made by Angela Merkel at the end of last week — that the EU would have to accept fiscal union otherwise — or so it was implied — Germany would continue to block any significant measures to refloat the European economy.
Nor did she offer much of an out-clause for the UK and other non-European EU members. All 27 would have to commit to the deal, she announced. Most of the 10 non-euro states will agree — since they are in the queue for the euro, desperate to get in, no matter how f-cked up it looks from the outside.
Sweden, Denmark and the UK are the only genuine hold-outs, and Merkel’s demands will produce political crises in the Nordic countries too, putting Sweden’s centre-right Reinfeldt government in exactly the same position as Cameron.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Denmark has recently elected the most left-wing government in its history, with the Social Democrats sharing power with the Socialist Party and the post-Communist Red-Green alliance, and, unlike some, the country actually has referendums on decisions regarding its sovereignty — rejecting the Maastricht Treaty twice, and then staying out of the euro altogether, a move that stopped the expansion of the single currency in its tracks.
I do not believe for a second that the social movements behind its new left government will accept Merkel’s suggested abrogation of fiscal powers — indeed I think the rejection will be cross-spectrum, with the hard Right Danish People’s Party (the xenophobic group that the Left coalition crushed electorally) also arcing up.
Nevertheless, a revised EU could give some loophole to the Danes, knowing that their financial probity will be utter in any case, and their economy too small to matter. It’s the UK’s compliance that will make or break the EU, and the Cameron government in the process. In asserting, in The Times this morning, that he will hold the line, Cameron sounded ridiculous:
“Britain will sign up for fiscal discipline in the eurozone, but not at the expense of our industries or our independence. We will need to look at the right safeguards for Britain in the light of what is proposed.
“Our colleagues in the EU need to know that we will not agree to a treaty change that fails to protect our interests. Our requirements will be practical and focused. But eurozone countries should not mistake this for any lack of steel.”
Grrr. The problem for Cameron is that he’s dealing with a triple crisis — party, country and Europe — while his enemies have only one aim, to make the Tories over as a euro sceptic outfit. They would be more than happy for Cameron to continue as leader should he acquiesce to that — and to poleaxe him if he doesn’t.
Nor has he got any favours from the France-Germany axis (this notion of “Merkozy”, in the manner of “Brangelina” irritates me. This is after all, a fusion of two centres of capital conspiring to further disadvantage their peripheral partners in the EU, pretty much wrecking any vestigial notion of European co-operation in the process).
Some weeks ago Cameron was rebuked by Sarkozy for lecturing the EU on getting its house in order (this was before it became clear that the UK was back in recession). The midget modeliser has now got his revenge, with a proposed process for the latest EU transformation so fast that it leaves Cameron no room to manoeuvre, or get his own party in order, before he turns up in Brussels on Thursday to thrash it out.
His enemies and rivals have already taken their chance. Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland secretary and the most prominent member of the Tory Right in cabinet (and the fact that that junior, thankless and increasingly irrelevant position is one of their main markers is a measure of how sidelined the Tory Right has been by David Cameron), was first out of the box to say that such proposals made a referendum on the EU “inevitable”.
By lunchtime London mayor Boris Johnston — effectively the No.2 Tory in the country — had echoed his remarks with a few caveats. There were others, but those two were enough. Cameron told the Commons he would go to Brussels with a “bulldog spirit” but really he should stop doing those lines.
No one has ever thought he is anything but a soft-faced PPE boy who went into PR, a Notting Hillbilly who pulls on his H&M jacket to drive out to farmers’ markets on the weekend with Morcheeba on repeat-play, and a post-it note on the dashboard reminding him to buy pesto. Cameron is less a man than a Crosby/Textor polling composite. He would need tougher and more assertive skills to stare down the bruisers in the Tory Right, and turn round and push back against the new emperors of Europe.
Cameron is stuck with an immediate demand — that any push by Germany-France (or more accurately GERMANY-France) for extra powers should trigger a request for repatriation of powers, one that Cameron can either make — and see it not honoured — or skip, and see his bulldog image have its balls cut off.
But he’s also aware that Germany-France is going for broke. There is no question that part of this push — as is the push for a Tobin tax on financial transactions — is aimed at the dominance of the London “City”, and is an attempt to shift the financial centre of gravity further to the heartland.
Germany-France would prefer the UK to bend to it, but they would also be willing to see an exit of the UK from the EU altogether, if that is required to make the EU and the eurozone co-extensive — a single Europe, its economy run by the Commission, the ECB and other groups you’ve never heard of, all nominally appointed by elected national politicians, all in reality, autonomous, self-reproducing bureaucracies.
That is really, when you think of it, the only reason they would make things so impossible for Cameron — unless, of course, it is simply more of the same European central blitheness, an utter lack of awareness as to how people are reacting to the full transformation of the European project into a financial corporatised state. There is fog on the channel, and the continent remains isolated, and we are all speeding into it very fast.