THE wielding of the British veto by David Cameron has thrown Europe into confusion and possibly changed the nature of Britain’s EU relationship forever.
For all the wranglings and rows of the Thatcher era, nothing is calculated to trigger deep-seated fury more than Mr Cameron’s game of call my bluff with Britain’s EU partners.
World leaders, including US President Barack Obama, were watching this summit for desperately needed signs of unity and stability in a club floundering over the eurozone crisis.
The problem was, Mr Cameron wasn’t bluffing: without safeguards to ensure that UK interests were protected over the single market financial services, he would not go along with the desired changes to toughen the existing EU treaty on economic prudence.
The changes would not have affected the UK – we are not in the eurozone – but Mr Cameron’s fear was “mission creep”, and the prospect of being sucked into rules and regulations which would affect the single market.
He thought that he would get his safeguards against such fears, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were not bluffing either: they left him dangling and isolated by going ahead with a new treaty of the 17 eurozone countries.
The offer to extend the new “club” to non-eurozone nations was immediately snapped up by six of the remaining 10.
At best, Mr Cameron is bracketed with Hungary, Sweden and the Czech Republic in the rebel camp.
President Sarkozy is the only protagonist content with the result; Chancellor Merkel wanted full solidarity as her country is effectively the paymaster of the costly bailout schemes being hatched to help out struggling eurozone states.
Mr Cameron returns home with no safeguards at all – except total exclusion from the new club, and the real risk that Britain will not be in the room when crucial decisions are taken in future which directly or indirectly affect the UK.
The general consensus yesterday was that “it’s all been a bit of a disaster”, to quote one senior EU insider. The only clear agreement was on which direction to point the collective finger of blame.