Nick Clegg’s advisers like to call him the “Heineken” of British politics, because he reaches the parts of Europe that other British politicians can’t reach. Clegg, who trained at the College of Europe, learned at the feet of Leon Brittan, the famously pro-European Tory, became an MEP and speaks to leaders across Europe in their own languages, is ideally placed to try and win back some goodwill for the UK among European leaders.
And that is what he will try and do over the next few weeks and months. He told cabinet this morning that he now wants to focus on how to re-engage with Europe after David Cameron’s treaty veto, which has clearly angered many on the continent. Vince Cable specifically raised the issue of business fears about being cut adrift.
Tomorrow, the Lib Dem leader will host a series of meetings with business leaders to try to soothe any worries they have on the UK becoming isolated from the rest of Europe, and to ask their views on Europe more generally. He will also attend a business breakfast arranged by Business for New Europe, a pro-EU group of corporate representatives.
Then in early January, Clegg will turn his attention to building bridges with other European leaders, hosting a meeting of government ministers and commissioners from Liberal and Liberal Democrat parties across Europe.
His advisers admit a decent working relationship with the rest of the EU won’t be achieved overnight – it could take weeks or even months, they warn. The problem is that no amount of roundtables, bilaterals or conferences can make up for the impression in many European minds that when the EU most needed the cooperation of all its members, the UK turned its back.