“Dear Donald” – David Cameron personally addressed the recent letter to his former Polish counterpart and now President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. The letter makes it quite clear that a wholesale reform of Britain’s special relationship with the EU is not likely anytime soon. In the coming months, Cameron may find himself looking for allies in Eastern Europe.
Cameron is between a rock and a hard place. He has to balance Eurosceptic demands at home with calls for tighter monetary and fiscal union abroad. But you cannot help thinking, that if last week’s letter is Cameron’s idea of renegotiating the UK’s special relationship, he is putting lipstick on a pig.
Cameron’s letter has been a charade of concessions. For starters, formally dropping the “Ever Closer Union” is semantics. So long as the UK remains in a “dynamic relationship” with the EU, it must accept the direct effect and supremacy of any new EU law. The question of reinstating precedence of national law over EU law has been replaced with a much milder request for national parliamentary control over EU legislation.
With the EU leaders embroiled in bringing Greece and Italy back into line, Cameron’s idea of a special relationship is hardly a priority. Thankfully for the British PM though, Britain is not alone in questioning how the principles of subsidiarity and European democracy have evolved. Eastern countries are also becoming increasingly self-conscious of the two-tier Europe. The distance of voters from the EU’s bureaucratic leviathan is another shared democratic concern. Opportunities are starting to arise, such as with last week’s inauguration of the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government in Poland. Cameron may therefore start seeking Eastern European allies.
Britain and Poland’s new governments pragmatically share an interest in reforming Europe. Poland and the UK are the EU’s two largest non-euro member states. In a poll of Poles last month, 81 per cent of Poles opposed joining the Eurozone. The new PiS government (which postponed adopting the Euro during its last term) is likely to put forward demands for safeguards for non-euro member states. Moreover, this week, Poland’s new Foreign Minister has challenged the EU’s refugee quota scheme, to the subsequent liking of other European counterparts.
Even aside from shared interests, the UK is Poland’s second-largest trading partner. Poland is keen to keep Britain in for trade, employment and education (just look, over 200 Poles are currently here at Oxford). To avoid Brexit, the Polish government may even help Britain push for EU reform negotiations.
Broader cooperation with Poland would also call for a change of narrative at home. Poles and Brits have a history of being brothers in arms – from the Battle of Britain to their common membership in the EU and NATO. EU migrants are hardly charity cases. They contributed an estimated £20 billion more in taxes than they received in benefits over the past decade. A more balanced public debate would be a good development.
So, David Cameron – look eastwards. While the Eurozone fights its own battles, for a timely EU reform package, you may need to call on some old allies.