As the rest of Europe's leaders were signing a new treaty binding eurozone countries into closer fiscal union, the British Prime Minister and his Czech counterpart were kicking their heels elsewhere.
Although it may be true that the debt limits now enshrined in law do not directly solve the euro's problems, their symbolic value should not be underestimated. As Angela Merkel struggles to persuade the German taxpayer to bear the ever-rising cost of holding the eurozone together, rules to end the profligacy of the past play a central role. Whether or not the treaty is effective, without it, the technical solutions to the crisis – such as an expanded role for the ECB – are not even on the table.
Meanwhile, David Cameron was feeling the sting of his shock withdrawal of Britain from the fiscal pact talks in December. The tactic was a big win for the Prime Minister among his party's europhobes. But he nonetheless quickly tried to mend fences in Europe; and when eurosceptics began to accuse him of backtracking, there were even hopes that the veto might pass off without any real effect on Britain's place in Europe.
Sadly, Mr Cameron's struggles at this week's summit suggest otherwise. Not only was the Prime Minister absent from the room for the treaty talks, but his proposals to boost Europe's flagging economy were ignored in the draft communiqué. Ultimately, after much complaining and the forging of an "unprecedented alliance" including Italy and Spain, many of the recommendations were included. But even Mr Cameron's triumphant claim that he secured a "fundamental" rewrite cannot entirely erase the discomfiture of his earlier plaintive pleas to be heard.
The Prime Minister's focus on economic expansion is absolutely right. Without swift and far-reaching reforms – cutting red tape and deepening the single market – the sclerosis in Europe will go on. And without growth, no amount of austerity can solve the bloc's debt problems. Mr Cameron's struggle for influence, however, only underlines the damage he has done to Britain's position in Europe.Reuse content