UK needs to start do­ing fa­vors to win EU friends

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Paul Tay­lor

The Bri­tish used to be past mas­ters in the art of trad­ing favours to se­cure their in­ter­ests in the Euro­pean Union. But since 2010, Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron’s gov­ern­ment has largely ne­glected the prac­tice to avoid up­set­ting scep­tics in his rul­ing Con­ser­va­tive party who re­sent Bri­tain’s loss of sovereignty to the EU. Partly as a re­sult, Lon­don’s in­flu­ence in the cor­ri­dors of Brussels has di­min­ished. Cameron may pay a high price in the com­ing weeks when he needs to call in all the favours he can to achieve a suc­cess­ful out­come to his rene­go­ti­a­tion of Bri­tain’s mem­ber­ship terms be­fore hold­ing a ref­er­en­dum on whether to stay in the bloc.

“All along, Cameron has not un­der­stood that sol­i­dar­ity mat­ters,” said John Kerr, who was Bri­tain’s EU am­bas­sador in the cru­cial 1990-95 pe­riod when Lon­don se­cured opt-outs from the planned sin­gle Euro­pean cur­rency and from EU so­cial poli­cies. Kerr, now a non-party mem­ber of the un­elected up­per House of Lords, told Reuters that then Prime Min­is­ter John Ma­jor gave him lee­way to ex­plore deals with Euro­pean part­ners and let him talk min­is­ters into adapt­ing their pol­icy to se­cure higher goals.

That is how the Brussels game is played. Coun­tries build al­lies by be­ing help­ful to each other on is­sues where they don’t have a dog in the fight, and ex­pect a re­turn when their vi­tal in­ter­ests are at stake. “No one did this bet­ter than the Bri­tish,” said Poul Skytte Christof­fersen, who as Den­mark’s en­voy in 1995-2003 brought com­plex ne­go­ti­a­tions on the EU’s east­ward en­large­ment to a suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion. “In the old days, the UK had a well-oiled and very co­or­di­nated ma­chine. You could al­ways count on the fact that when their rep­re­sen­ta­tive said some­thing, he had back­ing in coun­cil and some mar­gin to adapt.”

But over the last five years, Bri­tain has cold-shoul­dered part­ners dur­ing the euro cri­sis and pre­ferred to be out­voted on more EU de­ci­sions than in the past rather than join­ing com­pro­mises. Cameron re­fused to pay a penny to­wards bailouts of euro zone coun­tries, tried to block an EU fis­cal pact at the height of the euro cri­sis to de­mand veto pow­ers to pro­tect Lon­don’s fi­nan­cial in­dus­try, and de­clined to take in any of the Syr­i­ans stranded on Europe’s high­ways - it is tak­ing only a small num­ber di­rectly from Mid­dle East camps.


Now there are some signs that Cameron may be try­ing to build good­will, be­yond tour­ing EU cap­i­tals. Af­ter Is­lamist mil­i­tants killed 130 peo­ple in at­tacks in Paris, he joined 71,000 fans in singing France’s “Mar­seil­laise” na­tional an­them - not a nat­u­ral en­try on the Con­ser­va­tive party hymn sheet at a soc­cer match in Lon­don. That earned grat­i­tude in Paris. Bri­tain was first to write a cheque when the EU agreed to pony up 3 bil­lion eu­ros ($3.2 bil­lion) to help Tur­key keep refugees on its soil - a help­ful ges­ture to Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, who is bear­ing the brunt of the refugee in­flux.

And Lon­don changed its pol­icy to vote with Ger­many to wa­ter down EU ve­hi­cle emis­sions stan­dards at a time when Volk­swa­gen, pow­er­house of the Ger­man auto in­dus­try, was in deep trou­ble for us­ing de­feat soft­ware to cheat ex­haust tests. Bri­tish of­fi­cials dis­pute that it was a down-pay­ment for Merkel’s help in the rene­go­ti­a­tion, but en­vi­ron­men­tal activists are not alone in har­bour­ing that sus­pi­cion.

Cameron told his party last month the talks would be “bloody hard work” and Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk, who is over­see­ing them on the EU side, said it would “very, very tough” to reach a deal. In his day, Kerr made deals in the EU’s coun­cil of per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tives (COREPER) dur­ing the uni­fi­ca­tion of Ger­many, the Maas­tricht treaty on eco­nomic and mon­e­tary union, and the GATT global trade talks.

“In my five years in COREPER, Bri­tain was only out­voted once, and that was a put-up job where we and the Ger­mans agreed se­cretly to be out­voted so the French could claim a vic­tory on the cul­tural ex­cep­tion in the GATT talks,” he told Reuters. “In re­turn, the French let them­selves be out­voted on the agri­cul­tural pro­vi­sions that their farm­ers didn’t like.”

That kind of horse-trad­ing is typ­i­cal of the way EU mem­bers ex­change favours, some­times on un­re­lated dossiers. COREPER, the hub of co­op­er­a­tion among mem­ber states, meets weekly in for­mal ses­sion to pre­pare de­ci­sions for EU min­is­te­rial coun­cils and lead­ers’ sum­mits. Am­bas­sadors thrash out dif­fi­cult is­sues over in­for­mal break­fasts, lunches and in bi­lat­eral talks. “COREPER is a pond full of sharks. Each coun­try sends their best, tough­est ne­go­tia­tors. They can be very hard but they treat each other with ex­quis­ite cour­tesy,” said Gre­gor Woschnagg, who was Aus­tria’s long­est-serv­ing en­voy in the group in 1999-2008. “The rec­i­proc­ity prin­ci­ple works well. The rule is: make friends be­fore you need them.” — Reuters

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