Germany has elections on the way, Spain is just about holding a lid on its economic crisis while keeping a wary eye on the uphill struggle that its neighbour Portugal faces to avoid a second bailout, and François Hollande has his own political crisis to deal with (and is apparently also mourning the death of a camel). So is now really the best time for David Cameron to pitch up in Madrid, Paris and Berlin to argue for reform of the European Union?
The PM visits the first two cities today, with a meeting with Angela Merkel planned for later this week on the same topic. He wants to make the case that it’s not just Britain that would benefit from a concerted push for change in the EU: all its member states are in his beloved ‘global race’ with countries like India, China, Indonesia and Malaysia. Ahead of the meetings, he said:
‘We need a Europe that is more open, that is more competitive, that is more flexible, that thinks more about the cost that it’s putting onto its businesses, particularly small businesses; we want a Europe that wakes up to this modern world of competition and flexibility. That is the aim.’
He accuses Europe of having ‘something overreached itself with directives and interventions and interferences’, and reiterates his case for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, saying again that ‘consent for Britain’s membership of the European Union… has become wafer-thin in Britain’.
This is all well and good, but why now? Germany’s tough stance over Cyprus shows that Merkel is keen to show her country’s electorate that she isn’t a pushover. And just last week Germany and France declined to join the UK’s ‘balance of competences’ review.