David Cameron’s cack-handed European diplomacy risks leading Britain out of the European Union.
The latest example is the way the UK prime minister has mishandled his campaign against Jean-Claude Juncker becoming president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm. Cameron is right to try to block the former Luxembourg prime minister’s candidacy – both because Juncker is not the right person to reform the EU and because the way he is being promoted constitutes a power grab by the European Parliament. But the British prime minister’s tactics have actually made a Juncker presidency more likely.
If Cameron loses this particular battle, the chances of a Brexit – Britain’s exit from the EU – will shoot up. This is partly because Juncker himself will presumably not want to help the British prime minister with his plan to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU. And if Cameron can’t secure many goodies from his renegotiation scheme, he won’t have much to show the electorate in a referendum he plans to hold on Britain’s membership in 2017. (This will only happen if he is still prime minister then, which is far from certain since there is a general election in 2015).
Cameron’s campaign against Juncker has lost Britain friends and allies inside the EU. The most important is Germany’s Angela Merkel, who was initially lukewarm about the Luxembourger. But after Cameron was perceived by the German media to have threatened to pull Britain out of the EU if Juncker wasn’t blocked, she had to rally round his candidacy. She even gave Britain’s prime minister a thinly-veiled ticking-off last week, saying threats were not part of the “European spirit.”
Other Europeans, too, are becoming exasperated about Britain. One former French prime minister, Michel Rocard, told the UK last week to quit the EU before it caused more damage. That’s an extreme position, but it shows Cameron’s diplomacy has backfired.