Participate Translate Blank profile picture
Image for How to lose friends and alienate people, or Cameron’s EU policy

How to lose friends and alienate people, or Cameron’s EU policy

Published on


Watch­ing David Cameron in Eu­rope is a bit like watch­ing a kid make a stain on his shirt and rub it, mak­ing it big­ger and big­ger. The British prime min­is­ter’s diplo­macy has gone from bad to worse in re­cent weeks and the dis­il­lu­sion­ing per­for­mance in the Juncker episode means that Cameron has struck out in Eu­rope.

Less than a month ago, Cameron was pic­tured in a boat with his col­leagues Merkel, Rutte and Re­in­feldt but soon after that he was left row­ing against the cur­rent by him­self. Eu­ro­pean lead­ers have had quite enough of their British coun­ter­part and refuse to be bul­lied into mak­ing de­ci­sions. As it turns out empty threats and ar­ro­gance are not the best tac­tics for reach­ing suc­cess­ful out­comes in diplo­macy.

Cameron al­ready shot him­self in the foot five years be­fore he be­came prime min­is­ter of the United King­dom. Hav­ing won the Tory lead­er­ship, he promised the Eu­roscep­tics within his party that the Con­ser­v­a­tives would leave the cen­tre-right Eu­ro­pean Peo­ple’s Party – Eu­ro­pean De­moc­rats group in the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment. This de­ci­sion bit him in the arse nine years later (karma?), as the To­ries could have ve­toed Juncker if they had still been part of what is now called the EPP.

But the first se­ri­ous blow to his EU pol­icy cre­den­tials came in Jan­u­ary 2013 when Cameron pro­posed the EU ref­er­en­dum bill. He con­siders him­self ‘Di­rect Democ­racy Dave’, but it is an open se­cret that the pri­mary pur­pose of this pro­posal was to ap­pease Tory back­benchers.

Pol­ish Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs Radosław Siko­rski re­cently noted, full and frank, that Cameron has re­peat­edly demon­strated his in­com­pe­tence in Eu­ro­pean af­fairs: “He does not get it, he be­lieves in the stu­pid pro­pa­ganda, he stu­pidly tries to play the sys­tem.” The British leader should have tried to con­vince peo­ple as op­posed to feed­ing scraps to the scep­tics.

Pre­dictably, the hard­lin­ers did not prove to be eas­ily ap­peased or as Scot­tish first min­is­ter Alex Salmond po­et­i­cally com­mented: “You can never out swivel-eye the swivel-eyed.” It is worth re­mem­ber­ing that Cameron said ‘no’ to an in/out ref­er­en­dum on EU mem­ber­ship in 2011 and he should have held this po­si­tion when Eu­roscep­tics called for a British exit. In­stead, he chose to dance to the tune of a mi­nor­ity within his own party.

Going after the few that he con­sid­ers his own in­stead of pro­tect­ing the in­ter­ests of the many is, how­ever, char­ac­ter­is­tic for his per­for­mance as prime min­is­ter. It is why the NHS had to be de­stroyed to fill the pock­ets of his sup­port­ers and ac­com­plices like Baroness Bot­tom­ley who, no doubt com­pletely im­par­tially, voted on the Health and So­cial Care Bill de­spite fi­nan­cial links to three health care com­pa­nies.

Cameron will now have to hold a ref­er­en­dum he never wanted in the first place in case he is re-elected in 2015. It also proved to his Eu­ro­pean col­leagues that he is not a team player and not com­mit­ted to work to­wards a bet­ter func­tion­ing Union; he is only after sav­ing his own skin. Strike one.

More re­cently, Cameron de­cided to fiercely op­pose the ap­point­ment of Jean-Claude Juncker as Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent. “Some­times you have to lose a bat­tle to win a war,” the head of the British gov­ern­ment stated shortly after Juncker’s nom­i­na­tion. Maybe so, but a com­man­der worth his salt would pick his bat­tles more care­fully. The Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dency is a high pro­file po­si­tion, but not some­thing for which to burn your boats.

More­over, the God­fa­ther of Lux­em­bourg bank se­crecy would not have been ap­pointed if Cameron had had the diplo­matic shrewd­ness of his pre­de­ces­sors Blair and Brown. The for­mer Labour lead­ers skil­fully and suc­cess­fully blocked Guy Ver­hof­s­tadt and Jean Lemierre for key po­si­tions in pol­i­tics and fi­nance in the past.

When Cameron was met with re­sis­tance, he started is­su­ing empty threats say­ing “he would no longer be able to guar­an­tee that Britain would re­main a mem­ber of the EU if Eu­ro­pean lead­ers elected Juncker”. He ap­pears to have for­got­ten that he is in no po­si­tion to threaten any­one.

First, he needs to be re-elected be­fore he can even hold a ref­er­en­dum on EU mem­ber­ship. Sec­ond, the way a ref­er­en­dum usu­ally works is that you let the peo­ple de­cide and in most cases the out­come is not pre-de­ter­mined. In other words, Cameron can­not guar­an­tee any­thing about any­thing.

The Tory leader’s EU pol­icy and diplo­macy skills have fallen short on every level. Be­fore the Juncker fi­asco, he lacked lever­age for his rene­go­ti­a­tion agenda, but his ob­sti­nate at­tempts to block the Lux­em­bour­gian have made any re­main­ing good­will dis­ap­pear.

The tragedy is that Cameron did not stand alone on the Juncker issue, at first. The for­mer pres­i­dent of the Eu­rogroup was no­body’s favourite as even po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights of his own EPP fam­ily only of­fered him luke­warm sup­port. Yet, by launch­ing a se­ries of sense­less per­sonal at­tacks on ‘Mr. Euro’, rants about the process, and threats of a British exit, he man­aged to lose friends and alien­ate peo­ple in a mat­ter of weeks. Strike two.

De­spite all this, Cameron’s po­si­tion was still re­cov­er­able if only he showed a lit­tle hu­mil­i­a­tion in his de­feat. But the press con­fer­ence fol­low­ing Juncker’s nom­i­na­tion had no sign of that: “I’ve told EU lead­ers they could live to re­gret the new process for choos­ing the Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent.”

This self-right­eous at­ti­tude dashed the last bit of hope he may have had for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with his Eu­ro­pean peers, who are now more likely to es­cort him to the exit than ac­qui­esce to his re­quests. Strike three, you’re out, Cameron.