Alex Massie

Sarkozy’s Victory

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This is, according to the Spitfire & Bullshit brigade, a great triumph for David Cameron and, more generally, for euroscepticism. If so, I'd hate to see what defeat looks like. What, precisely, has the Prime Minister vetoed? It seems to me that the Franco-German european mission remains alive and well and, if viewed in these terms, Britain has been defeated. That is, the price of a short-term tactical success may be a longer-term strategic defeat.

Of course, the Prime Minister had to avoid a treaty that would, sure as eggs be eggs, be vetoed by the British people via a referendum. In that sense, he prevailed. But this is a pretty narrow victory, especially when set beside the prizes claimed by other governments.

The biggest winner of all, it seems to me, is France. Nicolas Sarkozy has rebalanced a Paris-Berlin axis that has been ever more obviously tilted in Germany's favour. Germany remains an indispensable nation (and the key to curing eurowoes) but France has reasserted herself this week too. And she has done so, at least in part, at Britain's expense.

The British position in all these negotiations is always weaker than some appear to think. Not being full members of the club (our choice and, in the case of the euro, a sensible one) has its advantages but plainly it also comes at a price. This is a loss of influence and the difficulty in being taken seriously. There are plenty of other interests in europe who like and welcome the British perspective on transparency, the EU budget and, perhaps most importantly, the workings of the single market. That party - call it Liberal Europe if you like - is weaker now than it was last week. In that respect, europe is today closer to the French ideal than it was. With Britain out of the picture - on many issues and, I fancy, more than we presently imagine - France is stronger and Germany, whose views are often closer to the British position than is sometimes thought, has lost a counterwieght to French protectionism.

All that said, I'm at a loss to understand what Ed Miliband would have done differently. Perhaps he would have accepted a Tobin Tax though, frankly, that seems unlikely. If the public were less eurosceptical you might be able to attack Cameron for putting the interests of the City of London ahead of the "national interest" but the City lobby is a powerful creature (with some reason) and, in any case, Miliband is no more convincing as a populist than Alec Douglas-Home.

But if France has gained the most from this summit, it's pretty plain that many of the other, smaller countries have lost. The idea that national budgets must be submitted to and approved by Brussels will horrify many (even if, perhaps, in Italy it will also be seen as reassuring, it being marginally easier to trust Brussels and the Germans than Rome and other Italians). For the Irish, always keen to analyse sovereignty issues, it will be especially galling. No longer a real Republic and perhaps not much of a Free State either.

Britain, reasonably enough, could not be a part of this. But a United States of Europe is closer today than it was yesterday and the idea that Britain can continue blithely on her way as the continent is centralised seems, well, wishful thinking. This is true even if the United Kingdom does some day leave the European Union. Now, granted, europe is too big and too diverse to be governed from the centre but deeper, truer fiscal union is on the way. From one perspective  - sorting out the currency crisis - this is the groundwork for further measures that can save the euro; from another it is hard to see how this can end well or, even for that matter, come close to meeting contemporary definitions of what democratic self-government is supposed to look like.

Still, that need not trouble the French too much. If David Cameron "won" this morning then his triumph is already eclipsed by that taken home by wee Nicolas Sarkozy.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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