If you don’t want to read about the content, this is the post for you

So, a bit of Euro-summit processology and diplo-speak. Why not? This was a failure of diplomacy, after all – all the states involved are allies and have largely convergent interests, the problem is managing conflict politely, but here we are.

The first question I’d really like answered is why David Cameron didn’t take the same course as the other states that disagreed, and simply say that he needed to consult parliament. It is theoretically possible for a British prime minister to both sign and ratify treaties executively, but it’s been assumed since the first world war that they must be at least seen by the House of Commons, and anyway this one required some very serious legislation at the national level.

I can’t imagine that the Tory hard right would be anything other than delighted by the chance to kick it out, even if the fact of being consulted and given power over a real goddamnit treaty didn’t fix them in itself. Had the Commons killed it, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t just have been another ratification foul-up, like the ones we regularly have with Irish referendums and decisions from the courts in Karlsruhe. Of course, it might never have happened – the treaty will need ratifying, quite probably this will mean one or more referendums, super-majority votes, recourses to the supreme court, and the like.

This raises a further question. Why did we need all 27? They’re not all in the Euro. The Eurogroup is a thing, and the French especially are in favour of it. It is, I suppose, still considered important to pretend that everyone will one day join, but this seems a bit remote as an argument.

And why was daft pork like the location of the European Banking Authority even up for discussion? It’s the sort of thing you expect from someone like Berlusconi, whining that there’s no food in Finland in the hope of some marginal-constituency shiny. The best explanation I can think of was that somebody was hoping that this would derail the whole project, without spoiling Franco-German relations, but it got a bigger response than they expected.

Another way of looking at it is that the European Commission has come out weaker – the new new thing is a pure side-deal, even if the Commission (or at least its EMU Directorate-General) has been very austerity-minded. Either a full 27-state amendment, or a Eurogroup one, would have protected its status and special role.

But then, I seem to recall Daniel Davies arguing that the Commission could be seen as Germany’s soft currency lobby. There ought to be such a thing – it’s Germany! the great exporter! – but it often seems to be nonexistent. On the principle that a revived mark would rise relative to the euro, the logic goes, the European institutions are the lobby for a lower German currency.

If this is so, it makes a lot of sense that the German hard-currency lobby would want to cut out the Commission and even the ECB, which implies going for an intergovernmental solution. Form requires, however, that it stays officially all blue and yellow, so all 27 must be involved in a treaty revision. The French didn’t like the idea much, but liked the idea of openly disagreeing with the Germans less, and hoped the Brits would kill it. The Brits thought it was the final triumph of euro-socialism, or something, and over-reacted. As a result, it went through anyway, with any waverers whipped-in by being told that it was just the Brits being bad Europeans. I think this story fits the facts.

3 thoughts on “If you don’t want to read about the content, this is the post for you

  1. I like Bagehot’s take:

    http://www.economist.com/blogs/bagehot/2011/12/britain-and-eu-1

    So Cameron goes into the negotiation asking for powers over financial regulation to change from QMV to unanimity i.e. he wanted to revert back to before the Single European Act in this area.

    This is an extreme demand that France and Germany weren’t likely to agree to, especially when they didn’t need his agreement for any deal. So one way of looking at it is that it was deliberately set up to fail – perhaps to make Cameron look like a “bulldog” on the international stage in our media.

    Another way to look at it might be that because of the demands by Tory Eurosceptics to repatriate powers, Cameron felt he had to at least try and give them something (especially after denying them a referendum the other week), however fantastical their idea of his bargaining position was. But the Lib Dems would probably have a fit if he tried to take Britain out the Social Chapter, and the public aren’t so keen on having less employment rights (perhaps that’s what all this Steve Hilton stuff is – floaters to gauge public opinion). So he opts instead to bring back financial regulatory powers, but fails.

    A more conspiratorial view might be that the gut reaction to the idea that David Cameron would want to impose higher capital requirements on banks (disbelief) is the right one. The Vickers (minimal) reforms have been kicked into the long grass, the Conservative party is half funded by the City, and we’re supposed to believe that Sarkozy and Merkel are secretly soft on Anglo-Saxon casino capitalism? Rules that allow Cameron to impose higher capital requirements would probably also allow him to keep them lower. Then add in antipathy to something like the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive, and you have your explanation.

  2. I’ve been thinking something similar. Is Cameron taking the bullet Euro member countries who didn’t want this financially austere programme which would of caused untold political and economic problems with electorates and parliaments across Europe?

    If so it’s comforting to know we have such a deeply sophisticated European balance of power statesman as a PM, but I doubt it somehow. More likely every country that wanted this result deserted him to set him up as a patsy.

  3. Cameron could not risk the Lib Dems teaming up with Liebore and the Nats to try and vote it thorough. Clegg is so pro Euro he probably would have given a shot and it would have been fun to watch.

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