The last time David Cameron went to Europe to do battle over a senior EU appointment, he mustered only one ally from the other 27 member states – Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, who has since declared that his mission is to turn his homeland into an “illiberal state”. The argument over Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment as President of the European Commission was the second instance in less than three years in which the Prime Minister had placed the UK in a minority of 26-2. In 2012, the UK and the Czech Republic were the only states to oppose new budgetary controls.
This Saturday, hopefully, Mr Cameron will not be so isolated, when he pushes for the Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, to succeed Herman van Rompuy as President of the European Council. There is a very strong case for Mr Tusk, notwithstanding his reputedly poor grasp of English and French. Appointing an East European at this time of crisis in Ukraine would send a strong message to Moscow, and it is in the UK’s interest to have a president from outside the eurozone.
Poland’s conservative leaders ought to be David Cameron’s natural allies in Europe. The Foreign Secretary, Radek Sikorski, was in the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University around the same time as Cameron and Boris Johnson. However, in Cameron’s anxiety to appease the anti-EU brigade in his own party by cracking down on Poles’ supposed benefits tourism, he so offended that country’s leaders that Sikorski resorted to obscene language in a leaked conversation to describe what he thought. Let us hope the Prime Minister absorbs the lesson that it helps to have friends in other parts of the EU, even if that limits the right-wing rhetoric he can use at home.