‘Incompetent’ Cameron emerges as an accidental European leader


A year ago, the British prime minister David Cameron was portrayed as a man who had created his own political irrelevance. After years of lacklustre leadership within Britain and Europe, including his much-maligned (within pro-EU circles) , his dogged and lone open was the proverbial drop in the ocean.

In leaked tapes, the foreign minister of Poland, traditionally one of Britain’s closest allies within the EU, accused Cameron of . British and European media declared in rare unison that:

What a difference a year makes. Cameron was the surprise winner of the UK general election last month, in the process shedding his now irrelevant former coalition partner the Liberal Democrats and marginalising his alleged big competitor Ukip. The latter process began a year ago, directly after the European elections, when Cameron and the Tories went after Ukip’s partners in the European parliament.

In their almost successful attempt to destroy the for Freedom and Democracy group, and thereby stop important financing for Ukip, the Tories were willing to welcome the far-right Danish People’s party and the theocratic Dutch Reformed Political party into their European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group.

Britain’s EU referendum in 2016 or 2017 will bring the kiss of death for Ukip, as the vast majority of Brits already say they would prefer to stay within the EU , and the massive pro-EU campaign hasn’t even started yet.

Even more remarkable is Cameron’s political resurrection within Europe. He didn’t just win the British elections, he won the Danish and Finish general elections too, as well as the Polish presidential elections. Or, to be more accurate, his European allies did. In a matter of just three months Cameron went from European pariah to official leader of the (soft) Eurosceptic opposition.

The new was even more surprising than Cameron’s, is a member of Law and Justice (PiS), one of the founding parties of the ECR. is close to that of Cameron’s, including a “claw back” of powers from Brussels and a strengthening of Nato ties. Poland will hold parliamentary elections in October, and although recent elections have shown that we should be careful about opinion polls, they have PiS well ahead of the Pro-European Civic Platform of EU Commission president Donald Tusk.

While PiS is an older European ally of the Tories, some of Cameron’s new friends are gifts that keep on giving as European parties have switched allegiance away from Ukip, which almost failed to form a group in the European parliament.

Timo Soini is Finland’s new foreign minister with responsibility for EU affairs. Both he and the new prime minister, Juha Sipilä, want a , straight out of Cameron’s book.

Similarly, the Danish People’s party will either be part of the next Danish government, or weigh heavily on its policies as a support party. Before the victorious election the then rightwing opposition declared its support for Cameron’s call for EU reform. In a debate during the campaign Søren Espersen, the deputy leader of the traditionally more pro-EU Liberal party, “I am in favour of a Liberal-led government supporting Cameron.”

The irony of it all is that Cameron is at best an accidental European leader. His EU policies are not inspired by a coherent European vision, but are ad hoc responses to constant challenges to his political power. Leading the European party most divided by Europe, Cameron has tried to temporarily neutralise the European issue by proposing a future EU referendum.

Similarly, his dogged resistance to many EU measures is a response to pressure from the City, rather than motivated by a Gaullist (or Thatcherite) counter-European vision.

Cameron is still stumbling along, but he is no longer stumbling alone.