Not So Isolated

It’s the make-or-break EU summit, going on now within the cavernous Justus Lipsius European Council building in the Brussels European Quarter. Will what issues from this conference be enough to save the euro?

The answer to that remains up in the air, as the summit continues into the weekend. What we do already know, however, is that an important split has occurred within the EU, resulting from the failure of German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy to have accepted by all 27 member-states their proposals for greater national budget control and coordination. Now the action on that front has shifted to the group of 17 member-states who actually use the euro.

The excellent “Charlemagne” commentator from the Economist has already termed this development Europe’s great divorce, in an article (in English, of course) featuring at its head a picture of the defiant-looking British PM David Cameron pointing an aggressive finger towards the camera. And indeed, this one and many other press reports from the summit would have their readers believe that the UK is isolated in its stand of resistance against those “Merkozy” proposals for greater EU power over national budgets. That is certainly also the message from the authoritative German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, where an analytical piece from Michael König is rather dramatically entitled Bulldog Cameron bites the British into isolation.

But such observers should be careful about rushing into any over-hasty conclusions. They should remember that a number of other member-states share an attitude towards the EU rather closer to that of the UK than Germany or France. The Czech Republic, for instance:

iDnes: Klaus a Telička schvalují rozvážnost v Bruselu, ČSSD varuje před izolací: Prezident Václav Klaus označil …



That link leads to an article from the leading Czech daily Mladá fronta dnes, with at its head a picture of Czech President Václav Klaus at the podium, with to the side a copy of the book he just had published, entitled European integration without illusions. Clearly, he is delighted to stand on the British side of the current Brussels developments. The article notes it is only the ČSSD – the main party now in opposition – that is worried about the Czech Republic isolating itself with this stance within the EU.

And there is also Denmark, with an even stronger history of setting definite limits to the sovereignty its government is willing to give up to the EU. As an article in the Kristeligt Dagblad notes, the new Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt needs to be careful to avoid a hostile homecoming from this summit by not giving much away. The unicameral parliament there – the Folketing – is very much divided about what is going on now in Brussels. Many of its constituent parties intend to demand a referendum if there is any significant change to Denmark’s position with the EU promised there.

Perhaps the best conclusion to draw is that Cameron – with his protuberant finger – simply was best-prepared (by temperament perhaps, but also by the very nature of the UK political system) to resist these German/French proposals which after all had been telegraphed well in advance. Several other countries might be alleging a need to return back to their countries to “consult” before they can really make up their mind, but the sort of decisions that will be made back there are in many cases already quite evident, and will ultimately not support any theme of British isolation.

UPDATE: What’d I say?

Click through to access an excellent article from the FT’s Brussels Blog showing that the latest EU treaty agreed to “26-to-1” at that last summit faces real problems not just in the UK, but in other EU member-states as well – Czech Republic and Denmark, yes, but also others.

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