David Blackburn

A bit of French stock in play

A bit of French stock in play
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Describing foreign dignitaries as ‘castrated’ and ‘autistic’ is terribly Gallic. As a rule, British politicians tend not to invoke ‘sensitive conditions’ to aid their critiques and the force of their rhetoric. I can’t imagine Chris Bryant, for instance, describing David Cameron’s euroscepticism as ‘autistic’ – he’d probably even baulk at describing it as ‘political halitosis’, preferring wink-wink, nudge-nudge gags about “cast-iron guarantees”. It is because this expansive sensationalism is so alien to our political culture that Pierre Lellouche’s comments sound so provocative and make Mr Cameron’s ambitions look unrealisable, with Europe seemingly united against him. The intention is to be provocative, but superficially so, because Lellouche's comments are, of course, absurd.

As Fraser notes, the Tory policy as it currently stands will not effect change in Europe unless Brussels has a road to Damascus moment and starts returning power – I suspect the conversion of the Jews will come first. The Tories could force the issue with an in-or-out referendum but have chosen not to have a “bust-up with Europe”, preferring the long game. However, the potential remains real. Cameron’s second term referendum is to europhiles what autism is politically to us. It is a clear threat and the EU must be prepared to negotiate with that in mind.

One aim Cameron articulated yesterday was that the EU budget should become more stringent. If he and Osborne find themselves at the budget negotiations in 2013, then they will attempt to enforce that reform. Socialist or Gaullist, France will resist, that is Lallouche’s point, but can it resist everything? France’s bargaining counter is the EU’s monolithic arrogance and the claim that Conservative Britain is autistic; Cameron’s is what Brussels fears most. Concessions have to be made on both sides. That the apparent demise of ‘President’ Blair’s campaign owes something to William Hague’s caustic remarks illustrates that Europe is listening, but will they act sufficiently to satisfy Cameron and his party?