Simon & Garfunkel are back in fashion among European diplomacy. His metaphor for the bridge over turbulent waters has become a commonplace these days in diplomatic circles for 2012 , a year in which the European Union’s horizon is especially uncertain.
The aggravation of the debt crisis is compounded by the serious internal fracture that has arisen between (almost) the entire EU and the United Kingdom, which refuses to participate in the new phase of fiscal integration promoted by Germany and France. It can not be ruled out that this anger, whether due to the pressure of British public opinion or internal politics, degenerates into a sudden exit from the community club of its most reluctant partner.
Diplomatic bridges over the English Channel were broken at the last European summit of the year, the past 8 and 9 December. That appointment did deserve the hackneyed historical label, although probably for the wrong reasons. David Cameron was left alone exercising his right of veto: against what he expected, the rest of the countries that remain outside the euro zone did not support him. “Stubborn child,” says the Parisian press that French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Cameron when he refused to sign the Merkozy plan.
From Brussels, the analysis is unanimous: the one who loses the most in his position of splendid isolation is London. Unlike the rest of the countries outside the eurozone, it will not be able to influence the change of direction that the Merkozy duo wants to print to Europe. Nor can it intervene in the new financial legislation that the eurozone approves, however much it affects its financial sector. If the exit from the EU is consummated, the economic consequences would be enormous for the British.
“In the short term, the situation for the United Kingdom is negative, but on the other hand British public opinion is so contrary to the EU that sooner or later they have to redefine their relationship with it,” says Michiel van Hulten, consultant on European affairs and former leader of the Dutch Labor Party (PvdA).
Within the EU, however, the consequences of the fracture are also feared. “Like it or not, in foreign policy we depend a lot on the United Kingdom, because it is the country that acts as a bridge with the United States, because it is the one with the largest army … We are too interconnected, they can retaliate in many ways”, admit European sources. London, in fact, has already avenged itself by refusing to participate in the European Union’s plan to lend money to the IMF so that it, in turn, transfers it to the eurozone if it needs it.
Germany to handle the situation
The bilateral relations between Paris and London are still at a minimum, but Germany is willing to assume the role of good cop to redirect the situation. “We want to build bridges over turbulent waters, we have mutual interests in the EU and a common future,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in London a few days ago after meeting with his colleague William Hague. Will the United Kingdom end by signing the new fiscal compact? “With good will, it’s feasible,” Westerwelle said. “We can and must change the current situation,” he concluded. Hague, for his part, remains committed to scratching guarantees on financial regulation for the City.
Many in Brussels trust that in the end the problem will be solved “with some typical community rinsing” so as not to break ties with London and continue advancing as 27.
“It is difficult to predict what will happen, but I would not be surprised if the new treaty went ahead with less than 26 countries, that not only the United Kingdom would be left out, but it will be inevitable to look for ways to continue working together”, says Van Hulten, who predicts problems to ratify the new treaty both in France and in the Netherlands, especially if the text is negotiated behind closed doors, as is customary.
The transfer of sovereignty demanded by the new treaty, warns this expert, may also be difficult to digest in other countries. “In the Netherlands, as the time comes to ratify the new treaty in Parliament, the opposition will increase until a referendum is called or there are early elections.”
Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, however, have warned that they want to advance to “forced marches” and the first draft of the new treaty attests to their intentions: it will come into force as soon as nine countries approve it. That is, they will not wait for anyone. No country can block it alone, as Ireland, Poland or the Czech Republic did in the past.
In the midst of this panorama, Denmark assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union on January 1 and a few days ago its European Affairs Minister, Nicolai Wammen, did not resist summoning Simon & Garfunkel to describe his ambition: “We want to be a bridge over the turbulent waters of Europe, “he declared in Brussels.
So murky are the waters on which it is now moving, that it is possible that more than one country stays on the road if before the draft is not corrected with a more drastic solution to the fiscal problems of the euro zone.
There is no time anymore. Europe shrinks and the rest of the world gives less and less importance