'Cameron Is a Coward': European Politicians Slam British EU Veto

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Following David Cameron's veto of EU treaty reform, there is plenty of frustration in Europe over Britain's stubborn attitude in the battle against the debt crisis. Prominent members of the European Parliament have strongly criticized the British prime minister and sent him a clear message: Europe doesn't need you.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is happy not to be in the euro. Zoom
AP

British Prime Minister David Cameron is happy not to be in the euro.

It is an irony of history -- on this very day 20 years ago, the Maastricht Treaty was signed, bringing the European Union into existence. On Dec. 9 and 10, 1991, the 12 leaders of the European Community agreed to the groundbreaking agreement and a historic project was set on its way.

Two decades on, and with the European debt crisis in full flow, the EU is facing its toughest test so far. Now one person stands out as the most divisive figure: David Cameron. Following marathon talks on Thursday night, the British prime minister vetoed a change in the EU treaties as called for by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Cameron's use of his veto has provided for much discontent within the European Parliament. "It was a mistake to admit the British into the European Union," said Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a prominent German MEP with the business-friendly Free Democrats, and vice chair of ALDE, the liberal block in the European Parliament. The UK must now renegotiate its relationship with the EU, he said. "Either they do it by themselves, or the EU will be founded anew -- without Great Britain," Lambsdorff said. "Switzerland is also a possible role model for the British," he added, refering to the fiercely independent stance of the Alpine country, which is not an EU member.

Harsh Attacks and Clear Frustration

There has also been sharp criticism of Cameron's attitude from the co-chairman of the Greens group in the European Parliament, Franco-German politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit. "Cameron is a coward," he said. He accused the British prime minister of not wanting to deal with the conflict over the Europe Union within his Conservative Party. Cameron, he said, had "manoeuvred himself into a populist corner" from which he would no longer emerge.

Elmar Brok, a member of Germany's conservative Christian Democratic Union and foreign policy spokesman for the center-right European People's Party (EPP), said: "If you're not willing to stick to the rules, you should keep your mouth shut."

These are harsh attacks. But despite all the frustration, the message is clear: The European project can not be allowed to collapse because of the UK's obstinate attitude towards the debt crisis. Cameron's critics are sending a clear signal to London: If necessary, things can carry on without you. Those critics are clearly hoping that Britain's decision will come back to haunt it at some point, and that the country will come to realize what a serious mistake it was committing when it turned its back on Europe.

This approach is also apparently being followed at the highest level. The 17 euro-zone states, together with at least six and maybe as many as nine other EU countries, aim to conclude a separate stability treaty in order to defuse the debt crisis. It's a risky step, because it is not yet clear whether the proposal can easily be implemented legally. But those member states are also sending a signal, namely that they can move forward without the British.

Cameron's behavior in Brussels has also irritated many MEPs. The British prime minister downright flaunted his veto, or at least so it appears to his critics. "What was on offer was not in Britain's interest … so I didn't sign up to it," Cameron said. A little later, he made it clear that his country would not want to adopt the euro in the future either -- he was happy not to be in the Schengen Agreement, and happy not to be in the euro, he said.

'You Can't Be a Little Bit Pregnant'

Manfred Weber, vice chairman of the European People's Party, was annoyed about Cameron's "distancing rhetoric." But at the same time he believes it was ill-advised from the viewpoint of the prime minister: "The country is primarily damaging itself." The British must now decide if they want to be in the EU club or not, he says. "The game of always wanting to have a say in the debate while also wrecking every compromise is not acceptable in the long run," says Weber. "You can't be a little bit pregnant."

Reinhard BŁtikofer, vice chairman of the Greens/European Free Alliance block in the European Parliament, also sees Britain as facing an historic decision. He would like the British to continue being part of the fold, he said, "but on Europe's terms, rather than Cameron's." It was not, however, currently necessary to exert excessive pressure, let alone make threats, he said, explaining that the prime minister's veto was a clear "sign of weakness."

Others were rather more forceful in that respect. Elmar Brok, for example, feels that the UK is one of Europe's most important partners, "but in a crisis, a partner must above all be loyal and ready to compromise." The other partners must now marginalize Britain, "so that the country comes to feel its loss of influence," he said.

Manfred Weber also urged EU member states to demonstrate more self-confidence. "It must be made clear to Great Britain: Either you want the whole package, or you can leave it alone."

Some believe they already know how to make that happen, namely by taking a clear political stance. "Now," says Green politician Cohn-Bendit, "we must put pressure on the British and force them, by implementing tough regulations on financial markets, to decide if they want out of the EU or if they want to stay inside."

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1. Cameron, Coward or Courageous?
tomas.broucard 12/09/2011
Good day. I believe that the European Parliament is being far too harsh on PM David Cameron and the United Kingdom. David Cameron must do what he believes is in the best interests of the United Kingdom. The British Parliament is responsible for the welfare of the British people. The European Parliament is not accountable to the British people. As a staunch Libertarian Socialist, I abhor the Maastricht Treaty and its baby leviathan, the European Union. Many years ago, I predicted its collapse. David Cameron is a courageous leader, not a coward. David Cameron would be a coward if he capitulated to the demands of Sarkozy and Merkl, both believers in state solutions that achieve the impoverishment of the people, the workers. It would seem to me that those who believe they need to band together for survival in an artificial union are the cowards, as they pan-handle like beggars to pay the bills which they incurred. They are hypocrites. So, if the United Kingdom goes it alone, like Switzerland (which is not in any problematic economic situation), the EU runs the risk of further defections. Truthfully, I hope the moster crashes down on top of Sarkozy and Merkl. We French ousted our king and queen for the sake of freedom from oppressive, heirarchical government. Vive la France! Vive la revolution!
2. British Euro veto
scsc 12/09/2011
I live in London, England and am shocked at the attitude of the EU last night and the stories in the German press today. Mr Cameron went to do a deal and found that none existed. I honestly expect foul play that is going to hurt everyone going forwards. Would any of you expect your Prime Minister to accept a Yes deal on a Financial Transactions Tax (FFT) that would tax your one and only industry? No, you wouldn't. Would you want to pay EUR70Bn every year in FFT for a problem caused by others? No, you wouldn't. Anyhow, the EU has ejected the 2nd biggest net contributor to the EU budget and the 3rd biggest economy in the EU. We in the UK want a national Referendum on the subject of the EU. We only want this because nobody in the UK under the age of 55 years has had any kind of vote on it. If the UK is so bad, why doesn't each EU member state offer a vote to their people on the subject? The answer is because they will all vote NO. The EU should be ashamed of the fact that it has gotten so far without any democratic validation from the people of the Europe. We in the UK love Europe and Europeans, we just do not think that the EU or Euro is fit for purpose. Jacques Delors finally admitted this this past weekend. Please do not believe your press, just as we do not believe ours. We are all friends.
3. Is Cameron is a coward?
scsc 12/09/2011
Last night Mr Cameron stood alone and looked after the interests of those who democratically elected him. Would you not do the same? The comments by politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit stating that Cameron is a coward are insulting, ridiculous and just unhelpful. He stood alone versus 26. Whatever you call that, it is not cowardly.
4. Britain must leave EU
gfrgfr 12/09/2011
Maybe Ireland too. Dublin is physically closer to Boston than to Berlin - and culturally Britain and Germany aren't even on the same planet. Maybe what we need is an "AEU" (Anglophone Economic Union), encompassing Britain, Ireland, US, India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Phillipines. Territorial contiguity is unnecessary for political and economic coordination in a wired world - but a common language and culture is essential. The EU lacks both of these things which is why it doesn't work. Simply assuming that European countries have a common heritage because they are physically close together is illogical. The only common heritage that European nations have is violence and bloodshed. Politically the British people are closer to the US than to the Socialist countries of Europe - which is why Cameron is concerned about what the British public think while the governments of the other European countries don't care.
5. Multiple choice propaganda questions.
mr.democracy 12/10/2011
"The European project can not be allowed to collapse because of..... A.The French NON to the EU constitution. B.The Dutch NEI to the EU constitution. C.The Irish NO to the Lisbon treaty aka.the EU constitution. D.The British veto on the new treaty. Strange how the peoples of Europe or their elected representatives always seem to "endanger" the "European project"! Perhaps the EU "parliament" should abolish us all.
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