Mr Cameron and the EU treaty

Mr Cameron has drawn the line, and he has threatened to veto the proposed changes to the EU treaty, if British interests are not safeguarded. Hopefully, he has already secured the agreement of Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy about these interests, so that he can claim his victory in Europe to the UK audience, otherwise Mr Cameron will find himself on a very sticky wicket. The 17 eurozone countries will be very angry, to put it mildly, if it were Britain, a non-member of the euro, who brings more turmoil and even paves the way for the collapse of the single currency. Britain would make for a good scapegoat for the ills of the euro and the EU, and Britain’s position within the EU will become much weaker.

Given that it is in no one’s interest for the euro to collapse, it would take a huge amount of courage or foolishness for Mr Cameron to exercise his veto. If Britain is perceived as the problem, making a deal difficult over the next few days, then there will be huge amounts of pressure exerted from other European countries, but also from the US and China. They do not care about British interests, however they are desperately worried about the consequences of the euro collapsing, since that will affect them directly and very seriously. In other words, it is in their interest that the euro survives in some form, and that trumps any concerns that Britain may have about the treaty changes. The consequences of the collapse of euro will hit Britain extremely hard, so vetoing changes in the EU treaty may be a Pyrrhic victory for Mr Cameron.

There is no doubt that Mr Cameron is in a difficult position, since he must pacify his Conservative backbenchers, who are mostly very euro-sceptic, by scoring a victory in Europe. He sounded euro-sceptic when he won the Conservative leadership contest, and having talked the talk, the backbenchers are waiting to see if Mr Cameron walks the walk. So this is very much about UK domestic politics. Normally, there is time for extensive arguments and posturing, which happen not only in Britain but in many other countries within the EU, though not reported in Britain. It’s also true to say that not much about British domestic politics is reported much in other European countries. European news coverage is still bounded by the state borders, and it can be quite parochial. This is, however, an extraordinary juncture in European history, and Mr Cameron may have overplayed his hand by setting out his position so early and so clearly.

So, interesting times ahead for Mr Cameron, and this will be one of those moments of his premiership that will be remembered for a long time by the future generations of politicians and historians, whatever course the events take. It is, though, a sideshow compared to the monumental tasks that the eurozone countries face over the next few days and few weeks.