Marginalised Cameron tries to defend his EU U-turn

Labour Party

“A veto is not for life, it’s just for Christmas.” Congratulations to Ed Miliband on this perfect one-liner. David Cameron was indeed on the back foot in the House of Commons yesterday answering questions on  the Brussels summit.

The reason – Cameron is trying to look both ways and utterly failing. Britain is a member of the European Union but opted out of, not vetoed, changes to the Lisbon Treaty in December last year. (Thanks to Labour MP Chris Bryant for this succinct wording).

Unable to sustain his threat to prevent the 26 EU member states that signed up to the “fiscal pact” in December from using the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to uphold their agreement, David Cameron was forced into an embarrassing U-turn. He now accepts that the “fiscal pact” countries can use the European institutions to make sure the treaty changes are upheld.  

Cameron is, however, trying to detract from the mess he has made of this whole saga by telling us he will jump on the 25 (the Czech Republic now appears to have joined the UK) if they do anything which harms the EU single market. If this happens, Cameron will attempt to take measures against the treaty signers.

This is yet another example of Cameron nonsense. No issues concerning the single market are related to the changes to the Lisbon Treaty put forward in December. They are separate matters.

Cameron is again coming up with smoke and mirrors just as he did over the repatriation of powers idea. It goes like this: Cameron, himself an arch-Eurosceptic, needs to keep his feral Eurosceptic backbenchers on board, not least because they were instrumental in securing his leadership of the Conservative Party. However, David Cameron is now the Prime Minister of Great Britain and has duties and obligations in the European Union, not to mention the need to maintain relationships with key EU players. Moreover, Conservative policy is to stay in the EU.

So Cameron is really in a bit of a fix. He cannot fulfil his obligations to all sides. So he’s doing a bit of both and being mightily unsuccessful in the process. The Eurosceptics are still not happy while Jack Straw echoed the feelings of many when he said yesterday that “outside the (EU) door is not a good place to be.”

Never underestimate the extent of  the UK’s marginalisation in the EU under David Cameron’s leadership. Taking the British Conservative MEPs out of the centre-right European People’s Party Group in the European Parliament massively annoyed Angela Merkel. The opt-out, not veto, in Brussels on December 9 caused French President Sarkozy to refuse to shake Cameron’s hand. Merkel and Sarkozy, always an intriguing double act, are growing ever closer with Merkel pledged to support Sarkozy’s presidential election campaign, according to the Financial Times.

 Being a member of an important organisation but not fully committed to it strikes me as a completely ridiculous position. Would David Cameron and William Hague take the same view on NATO? 

We are in the EU, and have been for nearly 40 years. While it is by no means perfect, Britain is surely better in the European Union than lost in the twilight zone outside, especially since the UK could take a leading role if our leaders wished to do so.

Other European countries see working together as a real advantage and many not yet in the EU are very keen to join.

The British idea that we are better off alone is a myth from a past imperial age. Yet even then, Britain itself was never really alone. Since the 18th century we had a world-wide empire to back us up. Now that is no longer there, our only tenable world role is to be a major player in the EU.

Feltham and Heston Labour Party

Labour Party

019The past few weeks have seen more European coverage in the British media than I have seen for a long time.  Given this,  I was pleased to be invited to talk to the General Committee of Feltham and Heston Labour Party yesterday.  I am always happy to go to GC meetings and other Labour Party events as it is all too easy as an MEP elected on a regional basis to become removed from Party members and activists.  This isn’t helped by being in Brussels and Strasbourg during the week.  So it was good to talk to a local Labour Party and I am pictured with Constituency Secretary Shantanu Rajawat .

As you may expect with Europe so much in the news, we had a good discussion.  Tony Blair’s candidacy for the position of President of the European Council was well up the agenda as was the strange and unfathomable decision by the Tories in the European Parliament to leave the moderate centre-right political group to set up their own group, the European Conservatives and Reformists.  As I have blogged before, the Tories’ partners in Europe are a rag-bag of unsavoury, ultra-right parties, including the homophobic Polish Law and Justice Party and their Latvian allies who celebrate the Waffen SS, not to mention the Belgian Lijst Dedecker who have strong links to the Vlams Belang, the Belgian equivalent of the BNP.  As if this were not enough, we know that both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France, are deeply concerned that the British Conservatives, whom they view as their natural allies, have aligned themselves with political groups on the fringes of European politics.

The meeting also expressed its total hostility to the BNP in a lively discussion.  The general view was the although Nick Griffin had done himself more harm than good on “Question Time” we need to be vigilant against the BNP and work out policies to defeat them.  I explained that in the European Parliament Mr Griffin has excelled himself by making a spirited and completely erroneous denial of climate change.

Chris Bryant, our new Minister for Europe, has arrived at a most interesting.  Very best wishes to Chris in his new role, which, as a former Chair of the Labour Movement for Europe,  I know he will carry out well.  Labour MEPs look forward to seeing you in Brussels/Strasbourg very soon.

Goodbye to Glenys Kinnock

Labour Party

Glenys Kinnock

Though it’s great news for Glenys Kinnock and I wish her all the best with her new portfolio,  I have to admit I’m not leaping up and down with joy at the prospect of losing her as Minister for Europe.  Although in post for only four months, Glenys did make an impact, and from the point of view of Labour MEPs, Glenys was a breath of fresh air after other holders of the post who knew little about the subject.  For once we had a Minister for Europe who not only understood the brief, but was totally committed to it.  As a former MEP who had worked tirelessly in the European Parliament, Glenys was a Minister of Europe to die for.  It’s a huge shame she has, indeed done that, metaphorically speaking, and it’s our loss.  I do, of course, wish Glenys all the very best in her new role as Minister for Africa and Asia.  International development is Glenys’s passion and in that sense it is the job for her.Bryant  

I would at the same time welcome the new Europe Minister Chris Bryant who himself has excellent European credentials.  A former Chair of the Labour Movement for Europe and BBC executive in Brussels, he is no newcomer to the European scene.  Chris will, I know, be a good Minister and we will all work closely with him.