So here we go again. Another PM plunges into an EU summit, having mouthed the prerequisite platitudes back home about “battling for Britain” and the “EU picking our pockets”, and then proposing a seven-year budget freeze will only happen if the Channel freezes over.
Actually, for all the thousands of words spilt, it wouldn’t be so very different if Ed Miliband were in Brussels (p6), not David Cameron. Realistically, it comes down to a battle over not losing £1bn off Britain’s rebate, and not being sidelined by the other 26 states over our threat to veto the wider budget.
The truth is that our PM is hand-tied by the public’s ambivalent relationship with Europe, born of our much more profound struggle to find a new national identity that reflects our place in the world. This has been going on ever since we won the war only to, in many people’s minds, lose the long-term peace, as Germany, Japan (and China) became global economic powerhouses.
As I wrote yesterday, many Britons also display ambivalence towards America, but it is of a different hue. We resent America for dominating our culture and language, while we fear Europe’s increasing influence over our judiciary, legislature and economy. All this at a time when our own union is under real threat.
No politician wants to talk about the decline of our political influence. But as a nation we are deluding ourselves if we do not confront it, and address the massive question of who we are now, rather than dwelling on who we were. In the meantime, don’t hold your breath over Brussels.