Monday, January 30, 2012

Fiddling around

One really should not take any pleasure in other peoples' misfortune, but it is virtually impossible not to smile at the idea that the "colleagues'" informal European Council tonight might be disrupted by strikes in Brussels.

The news of possible disruption comes via The Guardian, the Associated Press and the Evening Standard, and others. They are telling us that public transport will be halted and flights disrupted, and even the Eurostar Brussels service is to be suspended for the day.

No doubt most of the "colleagues" will be able to avail themselves of military flights if need be, and the federal police are well practised in shepherding high-speed convoys of limousines down the motorway into the European quarter. If need be, the heads of state can be flown into Charleroi under military control, and brought closer to town by helicopter.

The problem, if there is one, will be for the media and all the thousands of hangers-on who attend upon European Council meetings. But even if the disruption is minimal, the irony will not be lost – the strikes are in protest against the austerity packages which the "colleagues" have adopted as one of their main weapons in their attempts to salvage the euro.

Even then, the main focus of this salvage operation – Greece – is not formally on the agenda. That means that the audacious suggestion, proposed by the German economics minister, that the Greek puppet government should relinquish control of its budget policy, will not be discussed in plenary sessions. You can bet though that the sharp reaction from Greece, in rejecting the idea, will trigger plenty of discussion in les couloirs.

The main agenda item, according to the invitation letter, is a continuation of "efforts to ensure financial stability and fiscal consolidation", which means that draft treaty will almost certainly be discussed.

But there will be one person there who perhaps would be happy if the unions did their worst, and prevented the meeting from happening. This is David Cameron who yesterday was cast as being ready to withdraw his opposition to the use of the EU institutions to administer and enforce aspects of the new treaty.

Now, however, despite the Financial Times maintaining that Cameron remains in a conciliatory mood, we are being told that work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has "insisted" that Britain would continue to block the use of EU institutions for these purposes. This rather puts The Boy on the spot. Either he must anger the "colleagues", or upset the Tory Party rank and file who are desperate to hang onto the illusion that their leader is a eurosceptic.

On the other hand, with the rare intervention of Charles Kennedy, the Lib-dims are getting uppity. Kennedy, bolstered by The Clegg, wants The Boy "to take an active and confident role at the heart of the European Union". He must "never again isolate Britain as he did at last month's summit when he wielded the British veto".

Given these conflicting demands, it would be rather convenient for The Boy if strikes did stop play, even if that is rather unlikely. More likely the meeting will take place and we will get another glorious fudge – in public at least – which takes us no further forward. In the meantime, someone needs to teach Duncan Smith some history. He is going round telling people that "lack of democratic freedoms is what caused the Second World War", which is not exactly how I saw it.

That is in the context of Duncan Smith warning against the EU "fiddling around" with democracy, in its plans for Greece. But there should be no concern on this account. The very last thing the "colleagues" will be fiddling about with is democracy. That departed a long time ago.