Leading article: Not the way to solve the euro crisis, David Cameron

For all the Prime Minister's posturing, he has no authority at all in Europe

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The Independent Online

The Prime Minister is not necessarily wrong in his assessment of the euro crisis. Nor are his thoughts on the urgent need to bind the single currency together with, among other things, an effective firewall and a supportive monetary policy that far wide of the mark. What is in question, however, is what is achieved by taking to the public stage to say so.

In fairness to David Cameron, with the threat that Greece will leave the eurozone looming ever larger, he can hardly say nothing at all. No less a figure than the Prime Minister will suffice at so critical a time, and he has a national role to play in calming the building panic. But his trivialising soundbites about the need to make up or break up struck the wrong tone altogether. And when it came to substance, he wilfully perpetuated two wholly unhelpful myths about Britain's role in Europe.

The first is the pretence that anything that the British Prime Minister either does or says has a bearing on the decisions made in Berlin, Paris and Athens. It does not. At the very best, Mr Cameron might be a court jester, speaking a shade more openly than those closer to the power can. Indeed, this is the implication of the Chancellor's suggestion that, after the more incendiary language from European central bankers in recent days, the British Government feels it need no longer bite its tongue.

More likely, however, Mr Cameron's ill-judged outspokenness is simply another irritation to European leaders with more than enough to think about already. This is not his first foray into cross-channel lecturing, and all have met with justifiable rebuke. To speak again, and in such intemperate terms, just a few hours ahead of an EU video-conference – at which he would be in contact with the new French President for only the second time – is plain gauche.

It is also pointless. For all Mr Cameron's posturing, the hard truth is that he has no authority at all. As a non-euro country, British influence on the response to the crisis was never great. After Mr Cameron's blustering refusal to sign the most recent fiscal treaty, in Brussels last December, it no longer exists at all.

Regardless of how silly he may look to Europeans, however, the Prime Minister's primary audience is a domestic one. And it is here that the second myth arises. From the stark warnings about crossroads and "uncharted territory", Mr Cameron moved swiftly into promises that, as Prime Minister, he "will do whatever it takes to keep Britain safe from the storm". The sentiment is, perhaps, an admirable one. But it is a pledge that cannot possibly be fulfilled.

The brute reality is that Britain is so inextricably bound to Europe – in geography, in trade, and in the recondite financial plumbing of the modern world – that even the most meticulous disaster-planning cannot shield us from their problems. No amount of misty-eyed rhetoric from europhobe Mr Cameron can change that.

There is no disputing the scale of the crisis at hand. Even the usually sober Bank of England governor was moved this week to warn of the "storm heading our way". With an interim leader now appointed in Greece, at least one day of reckoning is fixed, in mid-June, when the Greek electorate returns to the polls. But as capital continues to pour out of Greek banks, the strain such uncertainty puts on the financial system may yet outstrip any political developments.

Apologists for Mr Cameron claim that yesterday's remarks were born of the frustrated sense that he is watching a slow-motion car crash in which no one will take the wheel. But he could do better than carp. François Hollande was on a plane to Berlin within hours of his inauguration. If the Prime Minister has something to say, he should be talking to Europe's leaders directly, not via British television cameras.