When it comes to Europe, David Cameron has to battle on two fronts. The one that excites him most is the fight inside the Conservative Party, however risky it may be for the Tories and the country. By contrast, in the European scene, Cameron has trampled on any chance of sympathy from other member states. Convinced that his demands are perfectly reasonable, Cameron has so far antagonised, one way or another, all of his potential European allies.
His post-election victory tour of European Union capitals was not a good idea: Ukraine was and still is on everybody’s mind. Trying to talk Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel into cutting benefits for migrant workers proved counterproductive to say the least, and stirred anger in Poland, much to the benefit of the local nationalist parties. The attempt to impose the British debate on the late June European summit agenda was also a bad idea—the Greek debt crisis and the humanitarian disaster in the Mediterranean relegated Britain to a minor dinner-time talking point.
In France, so far, public opinion has remained indifferent to the Brexit quagmire. There is too much to mull over at home—moreover, it never comes as a surprise to the French that the Brits want to do things their own peculiar way. Yet French political leaders are starting to realise that Cameron’s attempt to renegotiate the terms of British membership will have consequences for them too. Ten years after the highly divisive French constitutional referendum, both socialists and conservatives pretend they have recovered their unity and coherence over European issues. But it is mostly lip service, and the scars are still raw.
Take immigration—the favourite battleground not only of Marine Le Pen, but of all those with one eye on their voters’ concerns. The issue here is not so much about the amount of benefits paid to eastern European immigrants—it is about unemployment, and the canard that “immigrants are stealing all the jobs.” Nicolas Sarkozy has repeatedly criticised the freedom of movement since he came back into the political arena. He has now gone as far as comparing the arrival of migrants to having a flood in the bathroom.
Cameron’s claim that he wants to give back more…