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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cameron's EU speech: German media cautious but receptive

Yesterday we brought you some instant reaction to Cameron's speech from European media and politicians. In this blog post, we round up reaction from the German press after they've had a day to digest it - a crucial barometer of how much, if any, purchase Cameron's agenda can count on in Berlin. What struck us was that the media, overall, tackled the complex issue where next for the UK in Europe, with admirable balance. Criticism tended to focus on Cameron's perceived pandering to UKIP and his own party. But equally there was also strong support for parts of his argument.

In a piece with the strong headline: "The Ignorance of the Cherry-picking Westerwelle", Die Welt's London correspondent Thomas Kielinger argues that:
“David Cameron has called for a fundamental reform of the EU so that his country can remain a member. This has nothing to do with blackmail… When [German Foreign Minister] Guido Westerwelle repeated his well worn assertion that the UK would not be allowed to ‘cherry-pick’ in its relations with the EU he was guilty of exactly the same thing that he denounces. He picked out of the speech that which fits his argument while he ignored that which he did not want to hear.”
"Cameron is in no way alone in his analysis of the changes that are coming for the EU, which one cannot address as being 'business as usual.' The overdue plans to stabilize the euro zone bring with them a deepening of the EU that also will have wide-reaching consequences for the countries not belonging to the euro. Those need to be not just discussed, but also most likely negotiated. It is not anti-European when the British prime minister brings these up. “It is not anti-European of Cameron to remind of the threat to the EU’s competitiveness [or] the creeping democratic deficit and the lack of public confidence in the EU and its institutions… Great Britain is approaching the EU question in a 'practical' not emotional way, Cameron says. That would do us all some good."
On a much more critical note we have Der Spiegel, which it must be said has consistently adopted a Cameron-critical position. Their UK Correspondent Christoph Scheuermann argues that:
“Cameron's vision of Europe is a free trade area with access to the beaches of the Mediterranean. Beyond that, he doesn't associate the project with a past or a future. Apart from vague demands like competitiveness, flexibility and fairness, he has no idea how the EU should develop… He's isolated partly because his interest in Europe stems from fear rather than any desire to shape it.”
FAZ's Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger argues that:
“Once the agitation has settled over real or perceived British special demands, the country's European partners should quietly sit down and study Cameron's wish list and not just immediately dismiss it as cherry picking. Cameron’s strategy may be risky, but his analysis is not wrong... A solid [EU] framework is essential. Nonetheless this framework has to accommodate a range of traditions, mentalities and objectives. This means that without flexibility, it won’t work either. Europe's challenge is to find a way of combining that flexibility with commitment. Pragmatic British and other sceptics should be able to warm others to that idea.”
Süddeutsche’s Martin Winter argues that:
“Since the crisis, the formula that more Europe is always good for Europeans is no longer valid. It would be good to know what ‘more Europe’ means in detail and who will be expected to bear its political and financial costs. Brussels’ almost planned economy mentality in the crisis does not inspire confidence. A blunt European debate – which is not conceivable without Britain – could lead to greater clarity… The statement currently heard in Brussels that Britain needs Europe more than Europe needs Britain is foolish and dangerous… Above all, it is in the interest of both the Germans and the French, not only to pull the British along, but to bring them to the centre of the European debate."
Finishing on a lighter note we have Bild Zeitung which in its print edition had a very tongue-in-cheek list of 8 reasons for "Why we don't need the Brits in the EU" which included pearls of wisdom such as using imperial measurements, driving on the 'wrong' side of the road, eating chips with vinegar and drinking stale beer, as well as having a higher debt than Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland combined. However, in an equally tongue-in-cheek online piece which paid tribute to "the crazy Brits" citing everything from the Royal Family and Boris Johnson to the Loch Ness Monster and the Sex Pistols, argues that:
“With his promise of a referendum, David Cameron has turned the old continent upside down… Most EU countries have tacitly agreed to build Europe above the heads of the people. Motto: The European project is simply too important for democratic participation. And then along comes this Cameron!... The Europeans are collectively pissed… and want to convince the combative Cameron that he is acting against the interests of his own country. Some even speak of expulsion and want the friends of mint sauce and those who drive on the left completely out of the EU. But dear Britons, please stay! You are so crazy. We need your opposition, your obstinacy rather than a united Europe.”
Who said Germans don't do sarcasm...? Potentially plenty of scope for support if the UK, with partners, is able to pitch its proposals for EU-reforms in a smart way.


jon livesey said...

Instead of dealing with Cameron's speech entirely in terms of what this and that bit of the Press said, there is something to be said for actually, you know, "thinking" about it.

What is Europe's main problem? Is it the prospect that the UK might regain control of its own Courts, and its own working hours? Is it even that the beloved ever closer union might be delayed a bit and include fewer countries?

No. Europe's main problems lie in worsening demographics, declining competitiveness and share of World trade and GDP, growth at or below zero, unemployment above 10% for a decade, and high deficits and debt.

Europe has a choice. It can attack its real problems, or it can use the UK as am external enemy that allows it to stay in denial.

The days when the EU could say "We are successful and you are not, so we don't have to listen" are over, perhaps for ever.

To insist that the UK has to go along with the EU program, no matter what, is a form of grandiosity. Cameron is making proposals that he believes will make the UK, and perhaps the EU, more competitive. The answer to that is not to review how sarcastic the German Press can be.

Rik said...

Things donot go in one day.
You are simply dealing with 'Little Europeans' all over the place. EU, most of national EU governments, most of the EU media, a large part if not most of its populations.
They all basically think that the EU is the centre of the world and the way the EU is organised is the standard the rest of the world should be in envy off.
Well slightly over the top but it gives a good idea how 'Europe' looks at things.

As you say at the end they will have to face the music (reality) and dance.
But it will take some time. Look at the completely dysfunctional economies in the South, these are still running away for reforms.

The advantage being that it will be politicians that decide on that from the EU side. probably go a bit faster than the cultural change the population would have toi go through.
Anyway at the end of the day it is simply a game of chicken on one side the UK voter on the other EU-top brass. The UK voter looks clearly on collision course and the EU capos are risk averse. So the outcome looks pretty clear.
Not even to mention a possible plan B that Cameron could start. Strengthening the EFTA with the UK and Turkey and possibly a few others.
Or a plan C, uncoupling Ireland witht he UK (not unlogical) with likely an official bust and write off of a few 100 Bn in European banks.

Well that is the outcome. The only thing is that the other side still has to realise that the UK voter has them by their private parts and is willing the crush them if necessary.
It is waiting for that.

christina speight said...

I am now convinced that the Cameron speech and attitude is turning out to be a non-event. HE will not be able to negotiate anything meaningful so there will be no referendum. The public's reaction as measured so far has been Anti-Cameron, Anti-EU and PRO quitting altogether.

The people of Europe might agree with him but we will never know as they will never be asked. The furthest democracy gets in the EU is bounded by Parties which all have the same policy on Europe and eschew any discussion of reform. The rachet works one-way!

So the only answer is to negotiate a totally new relationship with the EU using Article 50 with its built-in mandatory negotiations. Of course that needs a "notice of Withdrawal Intent'. So be it and lets get on with it.

David Barneby said...

I agree with Christina Speight .
As I see it , the people see through Cameron and his present offering to renegotiate after the 2015 election , to hold an IN/OUT referendum . I doubt the the conservatives will win the election on that offering .

Negotiations , if any , would be long drawn out and maybe no referendum would take place .
The British people would most likely vote OUT in a referendum , irrespective of Cameron's achievements .

Cameron needs to hold an IN/OUT referendum NOW , before 2015 or simultaneously with the general election .

Britain needs to leave the EU completely and negotiate a simple free trade agreement , such as the EU is seeking with Brazil , Argentina and around the world .