The European Commission’s Economic and Financial Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said he ‘regret’s the UK’s decision
3:10pm UK, Monday December 12, 2011
The man charged with trying to save Europe’s single currency has said he “regrets” the UK’s decision not to support an EU rescue plan.
The European Commission’s economic and financial affairs commissioner Olli Rehn told reporters he was “very disappointed” the changes would now be limited to a fiscal compact and not a full-blown treaty amendment.
But Mr Rehn set up a potential legal spat between the EC and the UK when he told reporters he believes the commission, one of the EU’s main pillars, would be able to police the pact.
British Prime Minister David Cameron believes the deployment of any EU institutions to enforce a pact agreed outside the EU, such as the European Court of Justice, would be illegal.
Discussion about the British decision has been muted inside Brussels’ main organisations which are starting to wind down for the Christmas break, while MEPs are packing for their final plenary session in Strasbourg.
But there have been intense debates at drink and dinner parties and among the ‘sherpas’ – those officials who work away behind the scenes on their national governments’ behalf.
One representative from the German mission told me that he was “shocked” the UK had decided to flex its muscles over a measure designed to save the currency it insisted had to be stabilised.
That contradicts German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s assertion that she never expected Mr Cameron to be ‘at the table’ on the pact to tighten up financial regulations.
Great Britain is now largely isolated. As a result, it needs to ask itself what role, if any, it still plays in this new Europe.
But commentators in both France and Germany, the other big European powers, have been vocal this weekend about whether this means the UK’s eventual exit from the union is now inevitable.
Germany’s Der Spiegel wrote: “Great Britain is now largely isolated. As a result, it needs to ask itself what role, if any, it still plays in this new Europe.”
Le Monde, one of France’s most respected newspapers, opined: “There is a sense that the British are well away from a movement towards greater economic integration and budgets… They do not believe in the European idea.”
Analysis and editorials in several French publications suggest Mr Cameron had been “played” and “manipulated” by France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy who is facing re-election in Spring next year.
They claim he was able to use Mr Cameron as political cover in his central disagreement with Germany over how far to integrate or centralise fiscal union.
Unlike Mrs Merkel, Mr Sarkozy never wanted a treaty change, preferring a looser coalition or pact.
By blaming Mr Cameron for wrecking the deal, that clash was avoided.
In Spain, the newspaper El Pais also suggested Mr Cameron’s actions suggested a PM in trouble – not in control: “The crisis serves to weaken a prime minister who does not have the full support of his own party.”
But there is also some backing for Mr Cameron, from those who acknowledge he has to balance domestic political considerations as the EU swallows up more powers to try to contain the sovereign debt crisis, which shows few signs of abating.
The German weekly Die Zeit said the Prime Minister had little choice because of his “bad hands of cards”.
And if you think the UK is the only conflicted country in the European Union, consider this: A poll in Bild am Sonntag suggests 46% of respondents believe Germany would be better off out of the EU with 45% wanting to stay.