Friday, December 09, 2011

A few points

European Councils are always pure theatre. With 27 drama queens packed in one building, what do you expect?

Most of the hacks (and sometimes all of them) have very little idea of what is going on, and dwell in a fog of incomprehension.

The media are not admitted to the council chamber (and nor indeed are civil servants and aides). Therefore, the hacks know only what they are told by leakers, who are most often retailing second and even third-hand information - or through carefully managed press conferences and statements. Here, they are swallowing Cameron "spin", wholesale - a composite of leaks and "official" statements, written and oral.

Everything that comes out of Brussels is "Londonised" before it hits the streets. It is being run through a distorting filter, compounding the inherent "spin" and fog of incomprehension, making it highly unreliable as source material. Nothing can be taken at face value, and nothing can be trusted.

Whatever Cameron might say, the European Council is not negotiating a treaty amendment – it cannot. Inter alia, it is deciding whether it wants to convene as an IGC in order to negotiate a treaty amendment. The Council muddies the waters though, by not sticking to its own procedures. It is sometimes difficult to ascertain the precise legal format, under which the "colleagues" are operating.

Despite this, David Cameron has not vetoed a treaty change, dramatically or otherwise. He, himself, talks of an "effective" veto - i.e., not a veto.

Cameron could only deploy the veto if there was a vote on the draft of a substantive treaty change, formally "on the table" at an IGC. This is not an IGC. It is not a summit. Cameron is speaking within the framework of a European Council. Apart from the passerelle, the European Council has no authority to negotiate treaty change. The European Council makes political declarations.

The "fiscal pact" being referred to is not a treaty, and nor is it a treaty change. It is a political declaration - a statement of intent. It has no legal status and is not enforceable. This is, of course, why Merkel wants a treaty change … to make it enforceable.

Every national delegation is playing two games – one inside the chamber, where everyone is being terribly communautaire, and the other for domestic consumption. The two are rarely the same. And, at the moment, it suits Cameron to be seen (by his own media) as "isolated". It don't mean nuffink.

The UK is not the only member state with reservations about a treaty. See Sweden below. However, it often suits the "dwarfs" to have one of the big boys take the heat, riding on their coat-tails.

The hacks have deadlines to meet and space to fill. They are entirely reliant on the leakers, and will believe what they are told, if it fits the narrative. Media and politicians have common cause, in that they all want to keep the narrative going.

Just because all the media are saying the same thing does not mean they are right. The herd mentality is at play here, and the hacks like to stay within their comfort zone. If they depart from the herd narrative, they get asked awkward questions. Better to be part of the herd and wrong, than out on your own and right – but at the risk of being wrong and ostracised.

Within the herd dynamic, crowd psychology dominates. Even respectable, "sensible" newspapers get it wrong, sometimes knowingly, preferring to stay within the comfort zone.

The "colleagues" are well known for their propensity to milk the drama – it is their chance for a place in the sun (literally in some cases). Therefore, the "poised at the edge of a precipice" meme is quite often employed. The media believe it because they want to believe it. It suits their purposes.

Media pundits are never wrong - especially when they are wrong. Their egos will not allow them to be. When they are forced to admit that they were wrong, they simply re-write the narrative, which proves they were actually right all along. Hence, even when they are wrong, they are right. And the more tosh they talk, the more they are "respected" by their colleagues in the media pack.

What you see is not what you get. Very often, high-profile dramas are used as a screen to obscure more fundamental and important issues - in this case, the fact that there are still fundamental differences between Merkel and Sarkozy. These, more than anything, are driving the current negotiations. The Cameron drama is largely an inconsequential sideshow.

It ain't over until it's over.