First there was Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel restricts her visits to the UK these days to the barest minimum. She has been lukewarm about David Cameron, the UK prime minister, ever since he pulled the Conservative party out of the pan-European centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), of which her Christian Democrats are a leading light.
Next came France. President François Hollande hasn’t forgotten how Cameron refused to meet him when he visited London on an election campaign trip earlier this year. Hollande is not inclined to do Cameron any favours on crucial issues such as the protection of British interests in a more deeply integrated Europe.
Now it’s Poland’s turn. Radoslaw Sikorski, foreign minister, gave an important speech last week at Blenheim Palace near Oxford. He warned Cameron’s government not to assume that old ties of sentiment would keep Poland at Britain’s side, if the UK refused to play a constructive role in Europe.
“The EU is an English-speaking power. The single market was a British idea. A British commissioner [Lady Ashton] runs our [EU] diplomatic service. You could, if only you wished, lead Europe’s defence policy. But if you refuse, please don’t expect us to help you wreck or paralyse the EU,” Sikorski said.
“Do not underestimate our determination not to return to the politics of the 20th century. You were not occupied. Most of us on the continent were. We will do almost anything to prevent that from happening again.”
I have known Sikorski for many years. He counts himself a good friend of the UK and an
admirer of its history and political culture. But at Blenheim palace he was speaking what he believes passionately to be the truth. It was the same last November when, in a landmark speech in Berlin, he appealed to Germany’s leaders to show more leadership in the eurozone crisis.
If people like Sikorski are distancing themselves from British policies in Europe, thoughtful people in the UK should be truly worried. Splendid isolation, if ever it meant anything, was a concept for late Victorian times. In today’s troubled times it is a recipe for disaster.