It is one of the axioms of the EU that if France and Germany are together, that is how it will be. The British like to think that the Dutch will support their campaign but there is no sign of it and the United Kingdom policy of restricting intra-EU immigration will not win friends among the newer member states. Our secret columnist in Brussels Schadenfreude reports
The British Prime Minister David Cameron said a year ago, when announcing his quest for a “new settlement” with the European Union, that he detected a general desire for change. His antenna must be hyper-sensitive. To date, he has not found public backers among the other EU member states. He was apparently particularly expecting German support.
When he set in hand a Review of the Balance of Competences, which is Whitehall-speak for the repatriation of powers, he invited other European nations to contribute. If he received any responses, they have remained undisclosed. It is known that France and Germany publicly declined to contribute.
In recent weeks, two countries have made their position clear. Despite the joviality of the English pub lunch that Messrs Cameron and Hollande enjoyed the French president François – who has many other public and private things on his mind – said that the kind of changes which Cameron might be seeking were “not a priority”.
In France, changes to the EU treaties can be endorsed by parliament but there is also the option of a referendum. The last thing Hollande wants in the next few years is a referendum, which would not be about the subject on the ballot paper but would deliver a verdict on his alleged failure in managing the French economy.
Shortly afterwards, the German government said that it likewise did not back the British stance. Germany wants a new treaty with the objective of repairing the gap in the eurozone deal by establishing tighter fiscal controls with central oversight. It does not want the union to be distracted by a negotiation on competences opened by Britain – with the objective of treaty changes, which Germany does not need. If British growth is handicapped by EU regulation, why is that not also the case for Germany?
It is one of the axioms of the EU that if France and Germany are together, that is how it will be. The British like to think that the Dutch will support their campaign. There is no sign of it. And the United Kingdom policy of restricting intra-EU immigration will not win friends among the newer member states. Most European countries are waiting for precise British proposals that they can cherry-pick. Meanwhile, they see no need to say anything. And so the rhetoric and chicanery continues.