The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Cameron and Hague: the last thing Europe needs right now

The Conservative Party victory (well... almost) in Thursday's UK election could not have come at a worse time for the EU. Given that the Eurozone is grappling with the effects of the Greek debt crisis, it could do without a British government that seems set to push the "little England" agenda.

The feelings of many Europeans (including many British) were summed up by the comments of Pierre Lellouche - France's Minister for European Affairs - in November last year when he branded the Conservative Party's European policies as "autistic" and "pathetic."It can be assumed that the more cordial comments that he made in the New York Times last Tuesday were purely out of pragmatism.

For me, and many others in the UK, the Conservative attitude towards the EU is an embarrassment that will damage the ability of future governments to influence and shape the Union. While Conservatives regularly argue that the UK shouldn't 'relinquish' any more of its sovereign powers to Brussels, they seem to forget that a combative EU policy will inevitably lead to a lessening of Britain's international influence. What is even more surprising is that David Cameron and William Hague appear reluctant to pursue the level of Anglo-American cooperation that was apparent in the Blair-Bush area. This is surprising, but you could argue the Conservatives are being cohesive - Washington has stated time and time again that the transatlantic relationship is best served by a Britain at the centre of Europe. And, as there now appears to be no chance of that happening, relations between London and Washington seem destined to become more distant. The result: A UK that lives firmly up to its geographical isolation and forgets that a train from London to Brussels takes a similar amount of time as one from London to Bristol.

A leaked
memo written by William Hague to David Cameron, and published by the Guardian, provides a good indication of what is to come. In this document, Hague lays out the line he suggests taking at the Foreign Affairs Council. Two issues that stand out are: the statement that the UK will never join the Euro (a needless comment and poor timing given recent events); and the intention to return powers to London on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, criminal justice, and social and employment legislation. Although EU leaders would have seen this coming, the process of negotiation on these issues is likely to be infuriating.

While it may be true that the Conservatives turn out to be more pragmatic once actually governing, it seems certain they will be an obstacle to much EU legislation. There is also their unfortunate alliance with the Kaczynski brothers in the European Parliament.

Clearly I am not a supporter of the Conservatives, but the reasoning behind this position is far more to do with their EU policy than it is domestic issues. This may all seem a bit one-sided. Perhaps it is. But one thing is for certain: these are worrying times for anyone who wants Britain to be a cooperative partner at the centre of Europe.


  1. Some very salient points here Tom, I wouldn't disagree with much at all.

    I think it does remain to be seen just how pragmatic they will be once they take power (which seems a reasonable assumption to make). That is true at any time but especially now: the realities of the economic situation, in addition to other realities such as the war in Afghanistan, should outweigh party dogma or campaign promises.

    However, Cameron has never struck me as a potential statesman but as a glorified PR agent. I hope for everyone's sake that he proves me wrong.

    To come back to the EU aspect of your post, I would say Cameron could do no better than appoint Nick Clegg as his Foreign Minister if/when the Tories and the LibDems form a coalition. Clegg has worked in the EU, speaks serveral languages and - above all - his appointment would be very well received in Brussels and other European capitals. They will not expect much from a Tory government so naming Clegg Foreign Minister would open doors that would otherwise be closed.

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  3. I could not agree more. He would make a superb Foreign Minister. But, unfortunately, I think it's unlikely. Clegg's pro-EU stance will make it difficult to sell to the back-benchers - but I certainly live in hope.

  4. Abdul Rashid Dostumietsky18 May 2010 at 23:34

    I think the reality of the coalition government is rather different than the analysis in this post. The approach to the EU is not as rabid as people make out, partly out of pragmatism and partly because I don't think the current leadership is confrontational or as anti-EU as some commentators suggest. Of course, having the lib-dems on board certainly moderates the approach.
    The approach to the US is also interesting. "Cameron and William Hague appear reluctant to pursue the level of Anglo-American cooperation that was apparent in the Blair-Bush area". Who did Hague go and visit first within the first three days of becoming Foreign Secretary? Sec of State Clinton.

    Two interesting articles from the left-leaning Guardian:

  5. I do agree that the coalition has brought more pragmatism to EU policy.

    On the Hague point, I think it was clear that he was always going to go to Washington first but that doesn't necessarily translate into a policy that "hugs America close." A lot of what was being said during the campaign suggested a more distant policy but we'll see, it will probably turn out to be completely the opposite.

    I was pleased that Cameron visited Paris and Berlin this week but think the things he said in the press conferences were completely pointless - Sarkozy clearly looked annoyed. Everyone knows we are not going to join the euro in this parliament, it doesn't need to be rammed down their throats at every press conference. It's those kind of comments, at this time, that must infuriate Europeans.