- Simon Usherwood: “For an EU that’s really suffered in recent years, this is all another massive problem to have to deal with”
- Kai Arzheimer: “Angela Merkel will not be thrilled by the news that David Cameron will continue as PM”
- John Gaffney: “Opinion in France is generally as stunned by the unexpected result as opinion in the UK”
- Paul Kennedy: “Spain’s conservative government may take heart at David Cameron’s achievement against the odds”
The election result will have been an unexpected shock for many across the EU: despite all the talk of a referendum, there was a sense that the election would produce a more benign or moderate British position. With David Cameron now being pushed by his backbench to follow-through, European counterparts are going to need to work out how they handle the reality of a renegotiation.
However, the basic problem remains: any concessions to the British will have to be offset by concessions to others, and at a time when Greece looks closer to falling out of the euro and populists are on the rise in many member states, there is not much appetite for giving any ground. Member states might want to keep the British in, but not at any price, especially if that price involves weakening the core of the single market.
The combination of a distracted EU and a prime minister with a small (and rebellious) majority is likely to cause headaches on both sides. The added complication comes with the knowledge that European voices are likely to be shooed away by the British press, so what scope there is for debate and compromise will have to be largely behind the scenes. For an EU that’s really suffered in recent years, this is all another massive problem to have to deal with.
Kai Arzheimer: “Angela Merkel will not be thrilled by the news that David Cameron will continue as PM”
Although the Tories are the closest thing to a ‘sister party’ that her own Christian Democrats have in the UK, Angela Merkel will not be thrilled by the news that David Cameron will continue as PM. Ever since, at his behest, the Conservatives’ MEPs left the European People’s Party to form the European Conservative and Reformists group in the European Parliament in 2009, Cameron has been a difficult ally for Merkel.
His vetoing of tighter rules for the banking sector as well as his constant insistence on British opt outs and rebates have frustrated many of Merkel’s modest proposals for EU reform and closer co-operation. The prospect of dealing with a Conservative government that is desperate to win an in-out referendum and can be blackmailed at any time by their back-benchers must be even less appealing, and a subsequent ‘Brexit’ would be a blow for Germany. While the Franco-German tandem is working rather well at the moment, in the long run Germany has always relied on a balancing strategy that uses the UK to curb French enthusiasm for deficit spending, state intervention, and European bureaucracy.
Having said that, there is still considerable overlap between Conservative and Christian Democratic policies regarding free markets, NATO, and balanced budgets. Dealing with an unstable and left-leaning Labour government that is at the mercy of the SNP would have been even worse from Merkel’s point of view.
John Gaffney: “Opinion in France is generally as stunned by the unexpected result as opinion in the UK”
Opinion in France is generally as stunned by the unexpected result as opinion in the UK. The media has underlined the same themes: Cameron’s personal triumph, Labour’s rout (Ed Miliband himself is little known in France), and the SNP’s tsunami victory. The opinion polls all approve of the result – some of them by 100 per cent – though the French media have also been stressing how polling itself is another of the casualties of the election (and the French are even more obsessed by polling than the British are).
Cameron himself is now treated in the French media as one in a long line of British ruling aristocrats – the references to this new ‘iron aristocrat’ evoke Wellington as much as they do Thatcher. The French media have also placed a strong emphasis on the Scottish nationalists. France has always had a romantic idea of and relationship to Scotland (Rabbie Burns is regarded as a Republican revolutionary hero in France); seeing the Scots, like the Irish, as oppressed by Perfidious Albion. The humiliation of the integrity of the UK just adds a sense of glee in France that perhaps its ancient rival is coming undone.
Paul Kennedy: “Spain’s conservative government may take heart at David Cameron’s achievement against the odds”
Spain’s governing Partido Popular (Popular Party – PP) will be encouraged by the Conservative Party’s unexpectedly clear victory. Mariano Rajoy’s centre-right government has placed a similar, unwavering emphasis on austerity despite opinion polls indicating that the PP has lost a large proportion of its support since gaining an overall majority in November 2011. With Spanish economic growth due to outstrip that of both France and Germany during the course of 2015, the PP will claim at this year’s general election that, despite having inherited an economy in crisis, its tough policies – most notably its wide-ranging reform of the labour market in 2012 – have transformed Spain’s prospects.
Public finances nevertheless remain in a delicate state and unemployment is only likely to be marginally below the 22 per cent level inherited from the previous Socialist PSOE government by the time Spaniards go to the polls. Myriad corruption allegations have also plagued the PP, which is also faced with the challenge posed by the centre-right newcomer, Ciudadanos (Citizens), which has been able to establish itself beyond its Catalan home turf and appeal to disillusioned former PP supporters. Recent opinion polls have indicated that four parties – the PP, the PSOE, the anti-austerity Podemos and Ciudadanos – are within three percentage points of each other. Given how poorly pollsters performed at the UK general election, the PP may nevertheless take heart at David Cameron’s achievement against the odds.
Paul Kennedy – University of Bath
Paul Kennedy is Lecturer in Spanish & European Studies at the University of Bath.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics. Featured image credit: Arron Hoare (Crown Copyright)
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