Europe hears the wake-up call – but it’s not exactly hurrying to make changes

Handing power to nation states or deeper economic integration is the big choice now facing the EU


When David Cameron strode into a meeting of European Union leaders on Tuesday, he was adamant that it must not be business as usual after the electoral bruising the bloc took at the hands of the far right. But anyone looking for a seismic shift in policy while the EU leaders dined on their salmon carpaccio and beef and artichokes would have been disappointed.

While the words “growth and jobs” were on the lips of nearly every leader, they are at odds over how best to achieve this. Much of the post-summit press conferences was devoted to a spat over who will lead the next European Commission, an obsession in Brussels only likely to further alienate the electorates.

And Mr Cameron’s indignant statement casting himself as the man standing up to petty EU meddling was not exactly a fresh line from him, rather a repeat of his rhetoric at most EU summits.

Change was brewing elsewhere in the Belgian capital, however. After the leaders scraped their plates clean and headed home, they were replaced by their adversaries. Marine Le Pen of France’s Front National arrived in Brussels for talks on forming a new parliament group devoted to dismantling the powers of the bloc. Nigel Farage of Ukip also spent a day in meetings to boost support for his Eurosceptic parliament group.

Mr Farage had earlier expressed shock that despite anti-EU and protest parties managing to roughly double their showing and win around 140 seats, the discourse in Brussels appeared unchanged. “You wouldn’t have thought anything had happened at all,” he said.

Hopes for immediate answers from a notoriously sluggish institution are unrealistic, however. Tuesday’s dinner was just the opening salvo as the 28 governments try to piece together their programme of priorities over the next five years. The leaders have at least accepted that the election results must be a wake-up call, even if moderate MEPs do still dominate the 751-seat parliament.

“Voters sent a strong message, and this message was at the heart of our discussions,” said Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council.

Reform now appears inevitable: the question is how deep it will go. One camp advocates a dramatic curb on EU powers, with Mr Cameron leading the cry of “nation states wherever possible, Europe only where necessary”. His reform platform is the most radical, but the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, also called for “fewer rules and less fuss from Europe”. The other panacea – pushed by France and Germany – is deeper economic integration in the bloc to create long-term growth and jobs, although there is disagreement over what form this should take.

This fundamental divide over more or less Europe is mirrored in many smaller policy differences. The protest parties have very different agendas tapping into distinct national concerns. If the EU tries to paper over one crack, it will simply expose another. Many Britons want curbs on freedom of movement, but that could create more unemployment elsewhere in the bloc. The Greeks gave the top spot to a far-left party which wants to renegotiate their bailout, which if implemented would send even more Germans concerned about their taxes scuttling to anti-EU parties.

“There are some areas where you can find some common ground but its going to be quite difficult,” said Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

Most likely, the debate will return to the growth-vs-austerity argument which has dominated Brussels’ gatherings since the advent of the euro crisis, with Italy and France pushing for more investment to stimulate economies, a shift Germany has in the past resisted. They will need to reach a compromise, and a resulting “grand bargain” is also likely to include some scaling back of EU powers in more minor policy areas, Mr Leonard told The Independent.

For once, Mr Cameron does not appear quite so isolated among his peers in Brussels – but there are limits to how receptive other leaders will be. “Cameron will find lots of allies for reforming Europe within the current treaties and tackling welfare tourism or giving more power to national parliaments,” said Mr Leonard. “He won’t get much of a hearing for the idea of treaty change or special provisions for the UK.”

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Life and Style
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Pricing Analyst - 6 months / 1 year analytical experience

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day supply

£110 - £130 per day + Competitve rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Yea...

Year 4 Teachers needed for day to day supply across the region

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Nursery Teachers needed for supply roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Nu...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits