On his Telegraph blog, Mats Persson argues:
Take a deep breath. Britain is not about to get completely stuffed in Europe.
The FT ran a story the other day claiming
that the EU could circumvent the UK’s veto over the EU’s next long-term
budget (2014 to 2020) , effectively turning David Cameron into a
spectator in the talks and forced to accept spending increases. Stories
like these fuel speculation that “Brixit” – the UK leaving the EU – is
just around the corner.
But how much of this is actually substance as opposed to noise? The
FT story was pretty implausible – ‘circumventing’ the UK’s veto will be very difficult. In case of no agreement before the end of 2013, EU officials could move to roll over the 2013 EU spending ceilings
adjusted to inflation with up to 55 individual spending items decided
by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). This would be extremely messy.
There's no way 26 countries would agree amongst themselves to take a
common position against Britain on 50+ spending areas – at least eight
countries have already threatened to veto the EU budget for different reasons.
But let’s do some war-gaming around EU events this autumn, to see how bad things really are for Cameron.
EU leaders will discuss the long-term EU budget this week, starting
tomorrow. There are effectively three possible outcomes from the
Brussels summit: a new veto moment for Cameron, a deal or postponing the
decision. Though all options are on the table – and a deal this weekend
isn't impossible – the latter remains the most likely.
Following the recent vote in British Parliament, in which a majority
of MPs voted for a cut to EU spending rather than a freeze, Cameron can
hardly accept the proposals for an increase that are floating around.
But forcing Cameron to veto the EU budget this week could trigger a
“perfect” storm not only for Britain, but also the EU as a whole, in
which everyone would lose. A new veto
would really sour relations between the UK and Europe, and any attempt
to try to press ahead without the UK would be met with fury in
Westminster as it would effectively involve taxation without
representation. Agreement on an EU “banking union” – the far bigger fish
to fry as it links with the stability of the euro – would then be much
more difficult to reach at the EU December summit, when leaders will
hammer out those details.
The UK also has a veto over the banking union. Though it’s currently broadly supportive,
should the UK be singled out in EU budget talks, the banking union will
be far more difficult to manage in Westminster as every front page in
the land will be splashed with “EU stitch-up” headlines. Cameron will
come under pressure to pull a second veto over banking union to take
back control over events.
EU officials say they have a familiar back-up plan should this
happen: ignore Britain. The EU, they say, could press ahead with banking
union under so-called “enhanced cooperation”, allowing a limited number
of member states to pursue more integration, if not possible at the
level of all 27. But this would trigger a massive crisis as the UK
would, for all practical purposes, find itself “not in the euro but run by the euro”
– London’s worst nightmare. Legal challenges and massive uncertainty
for the eurozone would follow. Britain would also be half-way through
the exit door.
Far-fetched? Most certainly. It could happen. But Berlin and Brussels
will get cold feet long before it gets to that. The legal foundations
of trying to rewrite the role of the ECB, turning it into a bank
supervisor, using enhanced cooperation would be so weak that Angela
Merkel’s lawyers could well suffer a nervous break-down.
And this also shows that beyond the huffing and puffing – and the indulgence of “isolation” stories – it’s in everyone’s interest to reach a deal. But that’s only with regards to events this autumn of course. There will be plenty more fraught moments to come.