Alphen, Netherlands. 26 June. Yesterday’s EU Summit meetings (Day One) finished today at 0300 hours. The three main issues for debate were Grexit, Brexit and the migration invasion. In other words, one state that could be thrown out, another that might walk out, and the up to one million people from outside the EU trying, and by and large succeeding, to get in. Let me take each crisis in order of importance to EU leaders (save that is David Cameron).
Grexit: Implicit in the Grexit crisis is a battle for primacy between EU obligations and national democracy. The theatre of crisis that has developed over a possible Grexit would make a fascinating thesis for Greece’s game theoretician finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. The simple truth is that one way or another Greece will remain in the Euro and one way or another Greece’s debts will be forgiven. This is because the Euro is an ideology not a currency and thus at the very heart of ‘Project Europe’ and Greece simply cannot be squeezed anymore. Thus, the game now is one of political chicken. Specifically, can ‘Brussels’ force the fall of the current Greek government over the crisis and thus install a more amenable coalition or if needs be a new Athens government.
Migration invasion: Implicit in the migration invasion is a core debate about ‘competence’ and who gets to decide a key area of Home Affairs - immigration policy. Is it the member-states or the European Commission? The inability of Europe to tackle the current migration invasion and the unwillingness of any EU member-state to properly comply with the Dublin Convention demonstrates how easily EU ‘solidarity’ collapses in the face of a crisis. The Commission had wanted to impose a binding directive that would have instructed all member-states that do not ‘enjoy’ an opt-out to take quotas of migrants. The idea was that up to 60,000 migrants would be spread proportionately across the Union. Instead, last night the member-states agreed a ‘voluntary’ mechanism, which in EU-speak means no-one need or will comply.
Consequently, Italy and Greece will go on refusing to document new arrivals on their territory, the convention by which asylum must be claimed by a migrant in the first EU member-state of arrival will be ignored, and the beggar my neighbour tactic of passing the problem onto the next member-state will continue. Why? With 500,000 migrants believed to be in Libya and another 500,000 on the way a migration invasion on this scale would have enormous social implications and the very real prospect that parts of Europe could be turned into Africa or the Middle East. As for dealing with problem at source there is neither the will nor the means.
Brexit: Implicit in Brexit is a vital debate over the future balance of powers within the EU between a deeper and more politically integrated Eurozone (the real EU) and those EU member-states outside the Eurozone (associate members). However, British Prime Minister David Cameron (ever the tactician, never the strategist) chose instead to focus his efforts over dinner on how best to extricate himself from the promise of an EU referendum he made to the British people prior the May general election. Indeed, listening to allies such as Italy’s Matteo Renzi this morning one gets the distinct impression of friends trying to extricate Cameron from a hole of his own digging. One can only imagine Cameron’s pitch last night over dinner. “Look friends, I have to go through this process because I said I would so please bear with me and pretend you are taking my calls for reform seriously. Sorry”.
The simple and sad truth is that any reforms worth having to Britain’s relationship with the the EU will require treaty change. Last night Downing Street admitted that Cameron is not going to get treaty change and certainly not before the end of 2017 by which time the referendum will have taken place. So Cameron is now in the ridiculous position of holding an in-out referendum with nothing decided or achieved and on at best a promise of reform. In practice that means any vote to remain in the EU will negate the need for the very reforms Cameron claims he is fighting for. Or, the British people vote to leave and the other EU leaders are finally forced to offer Cameron a reform package by which time it will be too late. As a negotiating strategy it reminds me of the time I was sent off in a football match for head-butting an opponent’s fist! Cameron’s referendum will thus offer no change of substance, decide even less and fail completely to resolve Britain’s troubled relationship with the EU. Therefore, why he is putting himself, Britain and the EU through what will be a very difficult process with no obvious strategic or political gain?