Cameron's problems with Europe


Swing Mrs Thatcher's handbag but avoid isolation. Threaten to use the veto but do not waste your energy on negotiations that will not deliver.

That is a summary of the occasionally bewildering advice being given to the prime minister at the beginning of his big week in Europe.

Bewildering because some people appear to be arguing for two apparently contradictory positions. A big week because on Thursday David Cameron heads to Brussels for negotiations on the next seven-year budget for the EU.

So what is going on? The answer is politics is what's going on. The man who won his party's leadership telling the Tories to stop obsessing about Europe now has no choice but to do exactly that thanks to ....

Problem 1 - The Rest of Europe

The UK does not have any support for a cut in the EU budget. The government has or, at least did have, allies for its call for a real-terms freeze but most other governments have more pressing concerns. The Germans have their eyes on the future of the euro and a potential massive bill their taxpayers will have to pay if it collapses.

The Dutch are more concerned about protecting their rebate, which is about to run out. The French have a new government which is anti-austerity and, like all its predecessors, wants, above all, to protect French farming.

"Just say No," say Eurosceptics. Swing that handbag, says Boris. Look at the boost in poll ratings you got when you stood alone last December, they say.

There's just one problem with that advice. The other 26 EU countries have shown a willingness to go ahead without the UK. According to the Financial Times, some are contemplating agreeing annual budgets without the UK's support which would actually cost British taxpayers more.

Problem 2 - The Rest of the Conservative party

The Tories used to be split between pro-Europeans and Eurosceptics. They are now split between Eurosceptics and those who are prepared to leave the EU... oh, and Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine.

Today David Davis adds his voice to those arguing that the only way for Britain to forge a new relationship is a threat to leave based on an in/out referendum.

Last week's elections mean that even those Tory MPs who don't obsess about the EU feel the hot breath of UKIP on their necks.

With the PM promising a defining speech on Britain's relationship with the EU before the end of the year, they are exerting maximum pressure.

Problem 3 - Labour

Ed Miliband is determined to portray David Cameron as the new John Major - weak at home and weak abroad. He will tell the CBI there is a danger that Britain could sleepwalk out of the EU.

He will, at the same time, argue for reform of the EU or what some Tory papers have misunderstood as Euroscepticism. They are encouraged by his willingness to work with Eurosceptics to defeat the government.

In truth, Labour has yet to form its approach to Europe. What it's doing is telling the country that the PM is too weak to lead on Europe while working with his enemies to weaken him. That's what opposition parties do.

David Cameron told the CBI that he was not embarrassed about saying No, which suggests he's more worried about problems 2 and 3 than 1.

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

UKIP - power struggle, not soap opera

All the bizarre news stories that have emerged from UKIP in recent days reflect a power struggle within a party that aspires to hold the balance of power after the next election.

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Nick


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    kc 28
    Come again? You appear to be confusing 'hypocrite' with consistent. The person whose opinion on the EU seems to change almost daily is to be found at No.10 Downing Street. It's not Nick who should have gone to a well-known High Street optician.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    "I think you're being too generous with Miliband"

    Too right, Nick, the word you're looking for is hypocrite

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    This is a discussion of symptoms, not substance.

    The turth is that France is the rotten core of the EU. The post-war settlement of Germany paying reparations-type transfers to France has broken down, as EU expansion has introduced countries even poorer than France & even more desparate for German money.

    Why should France set the EU pace? Dave is leading the reformist drive for a new EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    It is a massive trial for Cameron, to come away from Europe with his head
    held high. It will prove his worth, once and for all. It could be the final
    nail in his coffin if he fails. Ted Wilcock

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Whatever happened to mutually beneficial alliances and treaties? Why is this monolith sacrosanct?

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    “How to influence?”

    Why try to? Take the budget; it will not get cut because ‘Merkollande’ will trade that card in order to protect CAPetc

    The EU has effectively become the EZ & the EZ will soon become the UESR in an attempt to save itself, They all know that the UK won’t join that & we’re fast becoming irrelevant. They’re going act against our interests whatever we do!

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    John_Bull @22
    "UK cannot influence"?

    But John, as an employer, how do you "influence" your colleagues?

    Is it not by rational discourse, good example, proof-of-principle?

    We need to work together, in families, teams, nations, continents

    Equal Partnership will enable trust at home, and earn trust abroad

    And, you do realise that fair taxation needs internationalism?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    The EU is a runaway train, heading for disaster & Federalism is one of the stops on the journey. Nobody in Europe voted for that & Euroscepticism will intensify in most member states as the newly disenfranchised begin to realise the true ramifications of their govt’s acquiescence.

    The UK cannot influence the outcome & has no need to stay on that train. – Exit inevitable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    "just wants" all to go well?
    Only 'tolerably' scandalous?
    Sadly, corruption tends to excess
    Booms, busts, riots, wars, eco-ruin

    "one alternative"?
    To non-egalitarian parties?
    (UKIP part in distraction from democratic deficit risks xenophobia if not racism under stress)

    Alternative to Euro-dysfunction & UK-dysfunction is of course Equal Democracy, stable equal-income partnership

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Algol - 'other stuff:'

    1. Because the EU is tough on human rights, countries wanting to join have made huge improvements in their people's living standards.

    2. A lot of the EU budget is spent on roads, trains and electricity in poorer areas of Europe. This pays for itself by creating our future customers.

    3. Sharing policing, spying and research saves cash and gets better results.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The man on the Clapham, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam etc omnibus doesn't want a Euro-parliament and all the other gubbins. He just wants the trading between the countries to work smoothly. The other stuff serves only to suit politicians' ambitions; Tony is probably even now still engaging in his habit of sitting in the loo, secretly repeating "President Blair" -- just for practice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    @14 J_f_H
    Not abuse or absolutist nonsense nor have I suggested abusing or actually abused 'our customers'. Check my posts.

    The problem is that you & others, John, claim that we would lose what was 60% & is currently about 45 to 50% of our total trade as a reason for remaining in &/or fully integrating into the EU & the Euro.

    You cited that argument last week, do you believe it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The EU has to become democratic and answerable to the citizens of the EU, not to hordes of unelected self-serving mediocre individuals about whom none of us citizens know beans. Give the European parliament actual power - and then hold it accountable for how it wields that power. As for budgets, until it can be stated clearly how every cent is to be used to the benefit of the citizens, no money!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I think you're being generous to Milliband.

    He believes we should be in Europe. Despite that he ordered his party to vote against their principles with the sole intent of undermining our government in its negotiations. As a direct result, the UK has been sidelined and will almost certainly have to pay more.

    He has thrown away our money, our reputation and Labour's beliefs for political gain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.


    Neither have the Home Office's!

    The EU accounts fail to get audit approval not because of the EU in Brussels, but because of the lack of a proper audit trail in the payment of subsidies which is handled by national governments.

    The auditors quite rightly insist that this needs to be fixed. So long as the farm subsidy regime exists payments trails will be a problem (also in UK.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    11.Up2snuff No I didn't. You seem to have a problem with English. Your 'questions' are absurd. Your suggestion of absolutism is just silly kindergarten abuse.

    Your idea that abusing our customers and suppliers will be ignored is the real absurdity. Not being wholly committed to the EU will damage the UK and the jobs of our people. The UK must properly occupy its seat at the table.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Sometimes, as with our flirtation with fixing the currency pre euro, events take charge. Then we were forced out and prospered.
    We can't influence the eu, that must be obvious by now, so we need to protect ourselves as best we can before it gets really bloody.
    Waiting on events is not an option this time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    All three main parties are Europhile to their core.

    Theres only one alternative. And most of the citizenry are too dumbed down and tribalised to see it.

    It'll all end in tears before bedtime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Last week, John, you dodged answering these two questions:
    1. Do you really believe that every EU business that buys from the UK would immediately stop doing so if we left?
    2. And do you really believe that an EU without the UK would refuse to sell anything to us when outside?

    Any chance of a straight answer today?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    We are all Euro-sceptics now or are we? Is Europe in our armoury for the economic war we are now waging and if it is why are the government giving such negative messages when the CBI would be horrified if a referendum were agreed on remaining or leaving. It is a mess because Cameron is being blown about by events in and around Europe. What of the LD's will they acquiesce in another Rightward move.


Page 6 of 7



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.