'Clumsy' Cameron's walkout a blessing for Europe, says France


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The Independent Online

Britain's self-imposed isolation from European treaty reform talks is a "blessing" for other EU nations, one of President Nicolas Sarkozy's leading advisers said at the weekend. Although Britain's split with the rest of the EU was "regrettable", it would make future negotiations on a fiscal union to save the euro much simpler, said Jean-David Levitte, President Sarkozy's chief diplomatic adviser.

David Cameron's veto of a formal EU treaty in Brussels on Friday could therefore be seen as a "bénediction", or "blessing", Mr Levitte told the World Policy Conference in Vienna. It would short-circuit the need for laborious negotiations with Britain on a formal EU treaty. It would therefore make it possible for the other 26 EU countries to reach a looser "inter-governmental" agreement by March on rules to harmonise fiscal and economic policies and rebuild global confidence in the euro.

Mr Levitte's words may strengthen the arguments of those in Britain who suggest that Mr Cameron fell into a "French trap" in Brussels on Friday. French officials insist that this was not the case. By vetoing a formal EU treaty, the French officials say, Mr Cameron made it easier for other nations – France included – to persuade Germany to accept the looser, "inter-governmental" path to reform. But the officials say that this was not a "French trap" but the result of Mr Cameron's "aggressive and clumsy" tactics.

Even moderate and serious voices in the French media suggested at the weekend that the summit could make Britain's future within the EU untenable. In a signed, front-page editorial, Erik Izraelewicz , the editor of the influential centre-left newspaper Le Monde, said: "One can now legitimately question [Britain's] continued presence in the single [European] market and its position within the European Commission and other European institutions".

Le Monde's Elysée Palace correspondent, Arnaud Parmentier, said that the Brussels summit had already, in effect, "booted Britain out of Europe". He used an archaic French word "bouter" (to expel), which was supposedly used by Joan of Arc when she threatened to drive English forces out of France in the 15th century.

In Germany, meanwhile, politicians yesterday lined up to criticise David Cameron for his EU veto while dozens of newspapers voiced incomprehension at Britain's new stance. Martin Schulz, the Social Democrat MEP who is the future president of the European Parliament, said he doubted whether Britain would remain in the EU in the long term.

"David Cameron has scored a gigantic own goal," he told Bild am Sonntag newspaper. "Never was Britain so isolated in the EU."

His views were echoed by Gunther Krichbaum, the chairman of Germany's parliamentary committee on Europe. He said the British now had to decide whether they were for or against Europe. "The Lisbon Treaty makes it expressly clear that all options are open, including leaving the EU," he said.

Additional reporting by Tony Paterson in Berlin