In many ways, David Cameron has been an interesting acquaintance as British Prime Minister. I suspect that a lot of observers assumed that he would end the Thatcherite era on the British right and lead the Conservatives to the centre of British politics but instead the coalition with the Liberal Democrats now in almost every respect looks like one of the most right-wing governments the UK has had for ages – something which also raises the question of the strategies and political efficacy of the LibDems. But we will leave that for later.
The relationship between the UK and Europe is an equally intriguing issue. To an outsider, it has long seemed obvious that the Tory right (supported by the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph) would prefer to leave the EU and better yesterday than today. The breakdown of the latest round of negotiations over EMU rescue packages actually makes a British exit from the de facto EU a likely prospect, even if I would expect Britain to formally stay in some kind of zombie-EU.
But the process and the outcome raise a lot of questions which I am not really competent to answer. Still, here goes:
1. How much of the breakdown was due to Cameron (and Downing Street, etc) being an incompetent negotiator? This report from the Economist more than suggest that Cameron s****d up in an epic way in presenting the British position – and if Cameron wasn’t incompetent in a technical sense, he surely miscalculated Britain’s influence completely.
2. While the Tory backbenchers will surely celebrate a breakdown of UK-EU relations in a very loud way, the question is if the UK financial sector (“The City”) will be equally happy over losing influence in the EMU. Will yesterday’s events undermine an alliance which has otherwise been fundamental to the strength of the Conservative Party?
3. The institutional design of the Euro17 or whatever the new arrangement will be named also raises some interesting questions. On the one hand, the Euro17 agreement will strengthen the supranational element in economic and fiscal policy compared with the present arrangements, but on the other hand the institutional setting will – at least de jure – be more intergovernmental than today’s EU, eg. with the European Commission being sidelined. This is very weird, given that Britain has always favoured an intergovernmental EU while France and Germany traditionally have pushed for more supranational government in the EU. But then again: EU politics always had a slightly absurd element to it.
As I say: I have no good answers so far, only questions.