Was Cameron right?
One more end-of- the-year EU summit was concluded last week. In the midst of a galloping financial crisis, European leaders came to (one more) consensus as to how they were going about from now to save (again) the euro and how to preserve the eurosystem.
It was the end of a dramatic year of near catastrophic disaster for the countries of the South like Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, and a year when the illusion of a united Europe of equal member states with democratic acquis crashed under a new “compact fiscal plan” of stringent budgetary discipline and inner controls.
While the dream is fast fading, it is worth looking back at the initial idea as spelled out in the 1950 Shuman Declaration when the six-member state ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) was founded in a post-war idealistic Europe.
In that famous text we read that the ECSC (which later evolved into the present EU) would “mark the birth of united Europe, make war between members impossible, encourage world peace, would lead to the unification of Europe democratically, create the world’s first supranational institution, the world’s first anti-cartel agency, a single market and revitalize the whole European economy.”
Six decades later, Robert Shuman’s plan looks all the more impossible to achieve. The EU summit last week became the platform for powerful Germany with France’s assistance to promote a new fiscal structure for the eurozone and have it accepted, although it failed to achieve full consensus.
From now on the eurozone – but also some of the members of the EU, too – will be controlled by a system of tough fiscal discipline with automatic penalties for budgets with deficits that fall below a certain limit.
Bearing in mind that the problematic countries of the eurozone are also being governed by rushed coalitions under non-elected technocrats – like in the case of Greece and Italy, which were chosen by parliaments not representative of their electorate – the European dream may in the end turn into a nightmare. Everybody’s attention is now turned to the all-powerful markets that will have the final word on whether the decisions of the EU leaders are enough to guarantee the saving of the euro.
The position that Europe adopted last week was not unanimous. While all the leaders of the eurozone and some of the EU rushed into approving the new compact plan in the hopes of placating the markets, Britain under David Cameron took an astonishing lonely step. Accused of playing a domestic political game to please the euroskeptics of his own party and to protect the interests of the city, Cameron vetoed the new plan and put his country in the margins of Europe.
He said he did it in order to preserve the sovereignty of his country. But his coalition Liberal partners under Nick Clegg are furious with him, as are a large part of the British media. The German magazine Der Spiegel waved ironically “auf Wiedersehen” to England.
There is no doubt that Cameron was the first British prime minister who actually vetoed a decision by Europe. Even his famous predecessor Margaret Thatcher had not gone that far, although often enough she threatened to do so, waving her handbag before the European leaders. There is no doubt that he took a major risk of isolating his country from the decision-making center of Europe. His own political future may be at risk.
But what if the new reform treaty of fiscal union does not work? What if the markets, for whose approval the plan was drawn, are not convinced over the viability of the euro? What if another cycle of credibility, crisis piling of debts and more austerity measures starts? What will be the position of Germany then, which is now leading and controlling Europe? In such a blurred and insecure atmosphere, with the breakup of the eurozone still a possibility, would it not be better at least to keep your country’s sovereignty intact?