The European Union was built as an inclusive institutional framework able to integrate as many European countries as possible, especially the big belligerent in WWII and therefore set up a system to balance the power in Europe and avoid another major conflict. For decades, the idea of a consensus was strong enough to keep European countries together despite their differences because we knew that we were to win more within the Union than separately.
The crisis has led to major changes though. From widening the monetary instruments and the action of the ECB to an extent never imaginable to bailouts of member states, the Europe we knew has been changing quicker than ever, struggling to follow the pace of the financial markets… and now that consensus is broken. Many might not have realised the importance of the British veto but it opens a new scenario in European politics that get us closer to the imbalances of power that destabilised the continent so much.
But what might have been the problem this time? From my perspective: the insatiable willingness of power and influence of the French President. It was this time when it was easier to break that consensus, precisely when more inflexible France (and Germany) showed themselves. But I don’t blame the German position for this result. My assumption is that they only did so to reach an agreement with France and being sure that they could enforce more automatic mechanisms to impose fiscal discipline. They’ve been submissive to France, as usual. And this time France has played dirty.
Sarkozy wanted to secure himself a stronger position within Europe and to do so he needed Great Britain (and if possible, other non-euro countries) out. He knew that David Cameron was to struggle in case he wanted to pass a new treaty in Parliament and in a referendum as well as he was aware that he could not come back to Britain without a guarantee for the City. Sarkozy did not want an agreement, he wanted a breach in the EU and that’s why he put David Cameron in the position of vetoing the treaty. Of course David Cameron was in a weak position and, apparently, didn’t do much to build alliances in Europe to protect his interest in getting a guarantee for Great Britain. And Sarkozy made the most of it with his inflexibility.
In the past months, an intense debate on the Europe to come has been taking place. Germany backs a more inclusive Europe with independent institutions and discipline. Sarkozy wants a smaller Europe, deeper integrated, with a stronger role for national leaders, amongst whom he would have a stronger position. These two Europes at the same time are impossible. One model must prevail. And the last summit only headed towards Sarkozy’s model, apparently more democratic but with more risks. One of those, the new brand polarization of Europe just started to show its ugly face. And for those like me with a strong European sentiment and an admiration for some national systems like the British, there couldn’t be a worst scenario.