Cameron fears can of worms for relations with Clegg if Merkel, Sarkozy insist on Treaty changes to save €urozone
All of the confrontationalism between a Prime Minister Cameron and EU leaders - forecast by many - has failed to materialise. Some of us predicted as much (and before the Clegg-Cameron deal). With a domestic budget crisis and a difficult military campaign in Afghanistan, Cameron does not want complicated, protracted relations with his European partners. Like every aspect of his conservatism, Cameron's Euroscepticism is carefully moderated.
On the day that Cameron attends his first summit of EU leaders the press is full of briefings about how Europe is unexpectedly warm to the new British government...
"Nicolas Sarkozy is smitten: French diplomats report his excitement at dealing with a British leader who is pragmatic and serieux. Angela Merkel, who bore a grudge over Mr Cameron's withdrawal from the German-led EPP, has come to admire his directness. She is also, some whisper, finding his smooth civility easier to deal with than the Gallic unpredictability of M Sarkozy, although it is unlikely that Mr Cameron will be able to exploit tensions between the German and French leaders." - Benedict Brogan in The Telegraph
"There was a time when many of Europe's leaders and Eurocrats trembled at the thought of David Cameron as prime minister. They imagined long painful negotiations with an administration determined to roll-back the EU's powers and block mission creep from Brussels. So many have been surprised by the Cameron administration's charm offensive. A good slice of the new cabinet has already passed through Brussels and have picked up good reviews. The British approach is to be pragmatic, active and constructive when they can be, whilst vigorously defending national interests. One British official said it made a "big impression" when the new environment secretary Caroline Spelman strode into a meeting speaking fluent French and German." - Gavin Hewitt, The BBC's Europe Editor
The one area of immediate difficulty are proposals for the EU to pre-inspect member states' budgets before they are presented to national parliaments. In a Thatcherite moment Cameron has already rejected these plans for "economic governance". But rather than 'no, no, no' the Prime Minister should see the Eurozone's need for fiscal union - to support monetary union - as an opportunity. He should be thinking that he'll give Brussels the powers it needs to save monetary union (as long as they only apply to Eurozone members) if, in return, he can get some other powers back for Britain. On CentreRight, Melanchthon has already argued as much.
The Open Europe think tank has published a briefing recommending this change of negotiating position. "Rather than being on the defensive," it argues, "Cameron could work with Angela Merkel and other partners to achieve Treaty changes - but ask for substantial EU reforms in return, including the repatriation of powers back to the UK."
The problem with the Open Europe strategy - one I support - is that it might not be supported by the Liberal Democrats. So long as EU reform is off the table the Coalition is reasonably united. Tensions may arise if renegotiation becomes possible. The Conservatives will see it as an opportunity to undo Lisbon and Clegg will resist that.