David Blackburn

Cameron prepares for the Brussels offensive

Cameron prepares for the Brussels offensive
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David Cameron’s first battle with the EU opens on Thursday. Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy hope to introduce a treaty that will deliver tough sanctions on eurozone members that break budget guidelines. Their success rests on David Cameron’s support. Europe is built on quid pro quos, so Cameron will ensure that the new treaty does not prejudice Britain whilst also seeking to repatriate competences.

He will avoid the more avant garde suggestions of outspoken eurosceptics – he knows that a UK Sovereignty Bill and exemption from pan-European customs arrangements are unfeasible unless Britain rescinds its membership - and, in the delicate context of coalition, seek practical assurances instead. The regulation of financial derivatives should remain in London and not be transferred to Frankfurt (London is Europe’s financial capital), the proposed EU budget increase should be resisted by member states and Brussels’ full-paid maternity 20-week leave should also be scrapped as it is unaffordable. Above all, the budget rebate should be restored, as the original logic for its existence is undiminished.

Cameron will conciliate rather than confront because, even beyond Thursday’s immediate political bargain, the ground is in his favour. At last, member states are recognising that the Lisbon Treaty is both a source of iniquity and incompetence: the proposed new treaty would not have been necessary had Lisbon been properly drafted to regulate the eurozone. Also, residual antipathy remains in countries whose referendum verdicts were ignored. Retrenching governments acknowledge the electoral dangers of mass euroscepticism.

This enables Cameron to be adventurous in negotiation. He may wish member states to examine administrative competences introduced by the Lisbon Treaty: the EU Parliament would not be proposing a punitive 5.9 percent budget increase unless it had been significantly emboldened. Similarly, the Commission, the diplomatic corps and the civil service must be inculcated with the spirit of austerity – that the EU’s apparatus does not have to answer to straitened voters does not excuse excess. He will also have another opportunity to encourage European governments to fight the Commission’s protectionism