I recently sat down with a European foreign minister to discuss the EU's enlargement strategy and how it would deal with those applicant countries, like in the Western Balkans, who want to join the Union but whose chances of integration in the next ten years or so are limited. We tried to write down those of his ministerial colleagues who could be brought together for a regular discussion of the issue; we stopped at five names. Only five EU foreign ministers out of 27 could be counted on to join an unscheduled discussion about enlargement policy.
That's a problem, including for the Tories. Here is why. The Tories are not only looking to avoid a dust-up with European leaders should they win power, they would like one or two areas where William Hague can collaborate with his European counterparts - which do not cross the party's red lines. Senior members of the Conservative Party have been seeing EU policy towards the Western Balkans - if not enlargement policy as such - as an area of potential cooperation.
In the past, it could have been the case. But in the future, a Conservative foreign secretary may find himself at the helm of a small group of European ministers who care about the Western Balkans - and who want to use the promise of EU enlargement to develop the applicant societies - but who face increasing opposition from most EU leaders. In sum: it may not be the "good" European issue the Tory leadership is hoping for.