You would be forgiven for thinking that, following ratification of the new EU Treaty and the new Commission, all was sweetness and light in Brussels. And you would be right. But make no mistake. There is an elephant in the room of every Council meeting, and the elephant’s name is David.
It would be nice if the UK election was just like any other election in one of the 27 Member States. Whether the winner of a national election is a Socialist, Christian Democrat, or even a Liberal, Brussels can pretty much be assured that the winner will not rock the EU boat unduly. In most of the EU Member States, the EU is supported, more or less, within the political classes – the difference is in the detail.
As ever, the UK stands out as being the exception to the rule. On 6 May, the likely date for the UK General Election, there is a strong probability that for the first time since 1997 a Conservative government will come into being. If David Cameron, the Conservative leader, becomes UK Prime Minister it will be the first time in thirteen years that a large Member State elects a party which is overtly hostile to the principle of “ever closer union” within the EU.
History tells us that UK political parties often complain about the burgeoning power of Brussels over the UK, but then become less hostile once they enter power. Possibly this is because they realise pretty quickly that there is no short-term fix, and possibly because, once the media storm subsides, British business steps in and has some quiet words in the politicians’ ears.
Yet history also tells us that Cameron often acts as the puppet of the virulent eurosceptic wing in his party which is calling for the UK to broker a renewed relationship with the EU.
Furthermore, he has demonstrated that he will happily go against the political grain in Brussels to score cheap political points back home – witness his pulling out last year of the UK Conservatives from the European Parliament’s largest group, the EPP, which angered some of his own MEPs and demonstrated where his own priorities lie.
UK business in Brussels is already fretting about what a Cameron government may do or say when it comes to the EU, and diplomats are worried that a Cameron-led government will refuse to acknowledge Brussels’ compromise culture.
The UK election campaign will be dominated by the financial crisis, Iraq, and expenses, and will feature not a little mud slinging along the way. Happy times, then, for elephants everywhere.