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Cameron's Fall Between Scylla and Charybdis in Europe

Posted: 14/01/2013 18:47

Victor Hugo, in Les Miserables, used the notion of tomber de Charybde en Scylla to describe the staging of two rebel barricades in the final scenes of his 1862 book. In it he refers to the Charybdis of the Faubourg Saint Antoine and the Scylla of the Faubourg du Temple. Indeed in the UK today, David Cameron is drifting between a devil and the deep blue sea over how to tack his EU speech, which is now due for delivery on Friday.

It's not for me to decipher which is which, but the figures Cameron rests between are his own backbenchers on one side, rooting for an 'associate membership', and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the other, keen for Britain not to exit the EU.

Previously it has been felt that Merkel wanted Britain to stay in so much that she was willing to accommodate for any of Cameron's demands. Now she endeavours to re-revise major revisions to EU Treaties which Cameron was set to use to renegotiate the terms of British membership.

Proof that Merkel's inner circle is now less sympathetic to Cameron's demands are shown by the recent words of a Merkel ally Gunther Krichbaum, who said the UK were seeking to blackmail EU partners in its bid for a new relationship with Europe.

Cameron knows that he could have kept Merkel onside and made some signals towards the repatriation of powers if he had been complicit with Merkel's wishes in staying in the EU and negotiating changes while keeping a 'seat at the table.' But at home the friction in his own party, and the attraction of Ukip to Tory eurosceptics, is becoming too much.

Cameron is pitching his negotiations after his reelection, if he is reelected (which doesn't look hopeful reading current polling). Even though there is an election in Germany this year Cameron would be cautious not to hope too much for a more sympathetic chancellor afterwards. Merkel will probably stay.

Even though there is some minor excitement around the left(ish) players ready for the fight before September, like the Pirate Party (possible left wing coalition partners, already having leadership problems), Merkel's premiership, and tutelage over the eurozone, will not be put into jeopardy.

Unfortunately for Cameron there is no way to please both his backbenchers, who will be key to the reelection victory he so hopes for, and Merkel who will be the voice in his head the whole time Britain keeps its seat in Brussels.

In order for Cameron to stand up to threat of Ukip, he will have to talk tough on Europe, which as Tony Burke has already suggested, risks losing the UK's commissioner in Brussels, banks on trade with BRIC countries making up the 57% of trade with the EU that we put into jeopardy, and green lights possible attacks on basic employment rights.

However he probably knows that he will be more effective in than out in reordering changes in Europe for the UK. All sense has been lost on the matter of Europe in the Tory party, and Cameron, instead of challenging it, has been swallowed up by it.

Fallen between Scylla and Charybdis, Cameron has made his choice - and it is pitiful.

 
 
 

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