United Kingdom: Isolated within Europe

The British Prime Minister will not go along with changes to the European Union treaty that require member countries to submit their national budgets to bureaucratic oversight.

Prime Minister David Cameron has “proved he is no pushover,” said the London Times in an editorial. He has “out-Thatchered Margaret Thatcher” by becoming the first British leader to veto a European Union treaty. The French and the Germans last week came up with a plan to save the imperiled euro by changing the EU treaty to provide for oversight of national budgets for all members, including those, like Britain, that do not use the euro currency. Cameron threatened to veto the change unless it included a clause exempting Britain’s financial sector from EU regulations. So now the rest of the EU is pressing ahead with a new pact. The French and the Germans—as well as the pro-Europe camp here at home—view Britain’s decision to opt out as a betrayal. But in fact the prime minister has delighted most of his countrymen by preserving British sovereignty.

Don’t think for a moment that Cameron’s position comes from strength, said Peter Mandelson in The Guardian. Even Thatcher operated under the principle that we “should never vacate a table at which a decision was being taken that affected British interests.” Cameron has done just that, not because he chose to, but because he lacks the authority to stand up to the anti-Europe camp in his party. Now Britain will be left out of whatever new body arises to govern Europe’s fiscal health. We have lost influence and gained nothing—not even the exemption from regulation that Cameron was insisting on. And that exemption was not even worth fighting for, said John Lichfield in The Independent. Cameron wanted Britain “to become a kind of Cayman Islands within the EU: enjoying the benefits of being part of a European single market for financial services but not subject to EU oversight or regulation.” No wonder the other leaders couldn’t accept that.

The rest of Europe may be saddened at Britain’s behavior, but it shouldn’t be surprised, said the Paris Le Monde. The British “do not believe in the idea of Europe.” They never have. They have always been interested “in just one thing: the single market.” The rest of the European project of closer integration has always drawn British “indifference, if not outright hostility.” There should be no lamenting what happened last week in Brussels. The British have always been an island, separate from Europe. Now they are “more insular than ever.”

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Those poor Continentals, said Boris Johnson in the London Telegraph. They’re understandably put out at being proved so very wrong about the euro. For years, Britain wisely resisted the lure of the common currency, warning that monetary union wouldn’t work without an anti-democratic political union. Now here we are in a euro crisis, and the Europeans are scrambling to create a sort of “Supra National And Fiscal Union”—let’s call it SNAFU—whose leaders are unaccountable to any electorate and whose rules aren’t likely to be heeded any more than the old EU treaty’s were. Britain is much better off keeping its distance from a project so “intellectually, morally, and democratically bankrupt.”

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