Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Cameron won't be left out in the cold for long

Friend in need: David Cameron may find he still has allies in Europe

Britain's isolation in Europe hasn't lasted long. Already countries like Ireland and Poland are rallying round. As Nigel Dodds pointed out in the Commons on Tuesday, even in France there is no consensus on keeping Cameron in the naughty corner.

It is only five days since Bild, Germany's biggest-selling newspaper, carried a headline which translates as 'Bye Bye England - Europe goes on without you'.

Well, it isn't Auf Wiedersehen, Pet just yet. Yesterday, Wolfgang Schauble, the German finance minister, was in coaxing mode. "I hope the Britons will step through the open door," he said.

His Polish counterpart, Jacek Rostowski, whose country holds the EU presidency, was still more explicit. "I don't think it will last very long, this hiatus,'' he said.

Rostowski, who was born in Britain, predicted that most of Cameron's concerns would be met. "My guess is that, within not too long a period of time, the compromise that was not achieved on Friday morning will be achieved - probably at the time when the inter-governmental treaty is brought into EU law," he added.

The Czechs and Hungarians also show signs of coming round. Even in the House of Commons, that Lib/Con rift shows signs of turning into a good cop/bad cop routine.

Nick Clegg is now bidding to be allowed to go into Europe and repair relationships. He has to - the Liberal Democrats now stand at 11% in the polls and he knows this would be an unpopular issue to go to the country on.

In France, it is becoming an election issue. President Sarkozy recently bombed Libya in concert with Britain and proposed the sharing of aircraft-carriers in the long term.

His current anti-Cameron rhetoric may be partly an effort to whip up Gaullist sentiment in the run-up to next May's presidential election.

General de Gaulle, it will be remembered, demonstrated French postwar power by vetoing Britain's application to join the Common Market in 1963.

Sarkozy needs to draw on nationalist sentiment because he is lagging well behind François Hollande, the Socialist presidential candidate.

For his part, Hollande says, "If I'm elected president, I'll renegotiate this deal." So there is another potential ally for Cameron if he plays his cards right after his own Gaullist moment when he exercised his veto on Friday.

As happened after political walkouts here in Northern Ireland, the manoeuvring continues regardless. The markets' initial verdict is clear - the euro slides against sterling and the dollar while, in the US, Hillary Clinton insists that Britain should remain central to Europe. Here, fears that Cameron's stance will damage Anglo-Irish relations, or scupper north-south trade, have proved unfounded so far.

Britain is still Ireland's biggest trading partner and the two countries share many of the same concerns on the finance sector - not to mention wanting an opt-out on corporation tax.

The two finance ministers met yesterday to compare notes and Fianna Fail, the main opposition party, is already asking why the Irish delegation didn't back up Cameron at the summit.

Ireland doesn't look like declaring war on Britain over this issue.

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