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Cameron and the Euroskeptics

Color them unimpressed.

Feb 11, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 21 • By ANDREW STUTTAFORD
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Within hours of Cameron’s speech, a leading member of Angela Merkel’s party was talking darkly about the dangers of opening “Pandora’s box,” a comment then echoed across the continent by a cast of characters that included the finance minister of the crumbling Hellenic Republic, Pandora’s repeatedly bailed-out basket case, sternly warning of the dangers of renegotiations, a performance that would suggest that chutzpah as well ascynic is a word with roots in ancient Greek.

Cameron may be gambling that the euro’s problems will force that box open regardless. National politicians sucked into the eurozone’s drama will keep trying to bypass the need for treaty revision and its awkward requirement of unanimity (as they did with the 2012 Fiscal Compact, which is formally a side-agreement) in their efforts to fix the currency union. But the far deeper integration that this repair work must eventually entail (and for which the Brussels bureaucracy is pushing) cannot be achieved without it. Amending the treaty would require British consent, and that could be Cameron’s moment. The U.K. would never be expected to opt into any EU “core,” but the price of doing nothing to impede its formation ought to be agreement to the sort of looser association that most Brits would anyway prefer over a clean divorce.

That’s how this story could work out, but it relies on improbable contingencies, stretched assumptions, and tightly crossed fingers. Many euroskeptics​—​even if they could be persuaded that Cameron has a shot at victory in 2015​—​would not regard that conclusion as a happy ending. What they want is a clean break. What they fear is that even the half-decent second-best solution​—​a looser association​—​will not be what it could be thanks to David Cameron. He may be frustrated by the EU, but he doesn’t have the imagination to risk anything approaching separation. 

What, I suspect, they anticipate is that he won’t even get that chance, that the eurozone will struggle on as is, and that Cameron will be thrown a few scraps at the end of pantomime negotiations, which he will then declare to have been a triumph. This will set the stage for a referendum in which a misled, there-is-no-alternative British public will vote for the “yes” for which Cameron has already declared​—​an odd thing to do ahead of any negotiations​—that he will campaign “heart and soul.” That is not the language, and these are not the scenarios, designed to reassure euroskeptic hearts, minds, or even souls in time for 2015.

Andrew Stuttaford works in the international financial markets and writes frequently about cultural and political issues.

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