Britain

Does David Cameron now need a reopening of the EU's treaties more than Angela Merkel does?

We have hardly heard a peep from Britain on the latest leg of Europe’s banking union. It is natural enough given the UK will be outside the proposed system for shuttering shaky banks, which is primarily for eurozone countries. But do not imagine it is unimportant for London. Strictly in terms of David Cameron’s plans to renegotiate Britain’s place in the EU, there has perhaps been no more worrying a development in Brussels all year.

Why? Cameron’s renegotiation strategy is partly based on this assumption: the eurozone will need a banking union to survive, and a fully-fledged banking union will need a re-write of EU treaties before 2017. That necessity opens the door for Cameron to press demands to repatriate powers.

The trouble is that this week’s banking union negotiation is showing that Germany and the eurozone will go to great lengths to avoid giving Cameron the leverage he craves. In one senior EU official’s words: “Nobody wants to give the keys to the UK”. Read more

David Cameron is now the only leader in Europe openly advocating the revision of EU treaties by a set deadline. He asserts that this will happen by 2017 because the eurozone will have to make “massive changes” to save the single currency.

But what if that is not the case? What if Britain is the main reason for a treaty revision? How would Cameron trigger a renegotiation?

The answer lies in Article 48 — to spare you from reading the text, here’s a summary of the hurdles it places before any advocate of treaty change: Read more

It is now become standard operating procedure: a big story breaks, and the Taiwanese news organisation NMA — which came to fame with its CGI take on Tiger Woods’s complicated love life — does its own unique interpretation of the event. Past favourites have included former British prime minster Gordon Brown’s temper tantrums and ex-US vice president Al Gore’s alleged harassment of a masseuse. Now, they’ve done Friday’s highly-anticipated speech by David Cameron on Britain’s future in the EU, complete with Bulgarians and Romanians storming Buckingham Palace and Nick Clegg in a Baby Bjorn: Read more

Finland's Jyrki Katainen, right, with Cameron during a visit to Downing Street last year.

In the run up to Friday’s big speech by British prime minster David Cameron on his country’s future in the EU, some of the loudest voices of concern have come from the UK’s closest allies, including Washington, Dublin and Warsaw.

In a meeting with a small group of reporters today in Brussels, Jyrki Katainen, the Finnish prime minister, added his voice to that list, saying that he cannot see what kind of competences Cameron could pull back from the EU.

“Being a member of the EU, and especially in the single market, you cannot kind of pick the raisins out of the bun,” said Mr Katainen, whose National Coalition party is closely aligned with British Conservatives on most major policy issues. “It’s very difficult to say what would be the competences that could be repatriated.”

Katainen added: “The EU without Britain is pretty much the same as fish without chips. It’s not a meal any more.” After the jump, we’ve transcribed the Finnish leader’s full remarks. Read more

Britain's Cameron, left, talks with EU Commission president José Manuel Barroso at May's summit.

With last night’s release of new numbers by Cypriot negotiators, the debate over the EU’s seven-year budget is beginning to heat up, with battle lines hardening over whether – and how much – funding should be cut from the European Commission’s original €1,033bn proposal.

In today’s dead tree edition of the FT, Josh Chaffin points to the growing debate over rebates – one that could have a direct impact on the country EU officials say has been the most difficult negotiator in recent rounds, the UK. Whether the issue is being raised now in an attempt to threaten Britain into softening its hard-line insistence on a budget freeze is unclear.

What is clear, however, is that the European Commission is going for the jugular. In an 8-page paper circulated by the Cypriot presidency last week, and cited in Josh’s story, the European Commission makes a direct attack on Britain’s sacrosanct rebate, saying Britain’s “unique treatment….seems no longer warranted”. We’ve posted a copy of the document hereRead more

Thursday’s catastrophic defeat for Britain’s Liberal Democrats in local elections has led to speculation that Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister, may get the heave-ho and replace Catherine Ashton, the UK’s member of the European Commission and EU foreign policy chief.

The speculation appears based on not much more than it making some logical sense: Clegg is a Brussels veteran, having served as an MEP and aide to Leon Brittan when Brittan was a European commissioner in the 1990s. And Ashton continues to bear the brunt of intense criticism for her performance as foreign policy chief, recently suffering an unexpected broadside from Belgium’s foreign minister. Read more

During his normal mid-summit breakfast with reporters, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, was in a feisty mood, despite the late session Thursday night.

Barroso gave an overview of the debate over treaty changes and a summary of what he hopes will be a strong statement in support of the euro today.

But his most pointed comments were aimed at reports of a letter being circulated by Britain and other member states attempting to set limits to the seven-year budget framework, which starts in 2014. Read more

As you’d expect, European Union leaders were quick to congratulate David Cameron on his appointment as British prime minister.  But for all the warm words, they will be watching his first moves on the European stage like hawks.

An important test will come next week at a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels.  There the UK will find itself under pressure from a majority of countries to agree to new arrangements tightening the regulation of hedge funds and private equity.  Spain, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, is desperate to get the deal done next week, having helped out Gordon Brown’s Labour government by delaying it until the British election was out of the way.  But will the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition be inclined to sign up to such an important measure so soon into its period of office? Read more

With Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s ruling Labour party heading towards defeat in Thursday’s British general election, the European left may soon be in even worse condition than it was just one year ago.  The trouble started in last June’s European Parliament elections, when centre-right parties swept to victory in the European Union’s six biggest countries – France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK.

Then came the Social Democrats’ crushing defeat in September’s German election: the SPD took a mere 23 per cent of the vote, its worst result in the Federal Republic’s 60-year history.  Finally, Hungary’s ruling socialists were decimated last month in an election that saw the triumph of the centre-right Fidesz party and a strong performance by the ultra-right Jobbik party. Read more

Viewed from Brussels, the rise of Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats in Britain’s election campaign is a fantasy come true.  For most of its 37 years in the European Union, Britain has been the bloc’s most awkward, cussed member-state.  Now, the unthinkable is happening.  Britain’s opinion polls are topped by a party whose leader spent five years working at the European Commission and another five years as a MEP in the European Parliament.  Gott im Himmel!  A Brit who actually understands the place!

And it doesn’t stop there.  Clegg studied at the elite College of Europe in Bruges, an institution geared to producing crop after crop of graduates with a lifelong enthusiasm for EU integration.  He speaks Dutch, French, German and Spanish, making him as proficient a linguist as such dedicated Europeans as Herman Van Rompuy, the EU’s full-time president, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg premier.

Clegg has a Dutch mother, a half-Russian father and three children called Antonio, Alberto and Miguel.  There has been no British party leader like him since the EU’s 1957 Treaty of Rome.  In fact, you may have to go all the way back to Charles James Fox, the Whig who briefly served as foreign secretary in the Napoleonic wars, to find a British statesman whose mental outlook was so naturally rooted in Europe.  Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive!  Clegg’s emergence is enough to make even the most agnostic Eurocrat think that there must be a god, after all. Read more