John O'Sullivan is Editor-at-Large of National Review.
In his memoir of the Thatcher administration, Nigel Lawson, her Finance Minister, gives a droll explanation of the Foreign Office’s reasoning on the proper use of the veto in European Union deliberations. The survival of the veto was a vital British interest, ran the F.O. line. So whenever any other country used the veto, the F.O thought that Britain should support it irrespective of the merits of any particular case. On the other hand, Britain should never cast a veto in its own cause because that might put the veto at risk. Hardly surprisingly, David Cameron’s decision on the 10th of December to veto the establishment of a new fiscal union of seventeen Euro-land countries within the EU treaty structure was the first occasion when a British leader has actually cast a veto to defend vital British interests.
If he actually did so, that is. For almost everything we thought had happened on the morrow of that European “summit” turns out to be either false or trivial. The headline story is that Cameron sought to insert a broad exemption of Britain’s financial services from European regulation into a treaty that was urgently needed to save the Euro from collapse and, when he failed, vetoed the treaty favoured by everyone else only to find that he and Britain were deservedly “isolated.” Here is Wolfgang Kaden’s relatively restrained version of this view in Der Spiegel:
“The result of Thursday night -- the 17 euro-zone countries joined by nine others pending parliamentary approval in three of the non-euro-zone capitals -- is a success. A success for the majority of Europeans and for efforts to find a solution to the euro crisis. Any deal with the obstreperous British would have been a weak compromise, and one that would have allowed questionable economic practices to continue.”