Cameron comes under fire for ‘phantom veto’

UK Prime Minister David Cameron came under fire from the Labour opposition and the eurosceptic wing of his own party in London yesterday (31 January) for his veto of the new fiscal compact and backtracking on the use of the EU institutions.

“A veto is not for life. It's just for Christmas,” Labour leader Ed Miliband said during a session in the Westminster Parliament.

Miliband claimed that members of Cameron's Cabinet wrongly believed he had vetoed the eurozone countries using the EU institutions – including Commission and Court of Justice – to police the pact. The opposition leader also said that the fiscal compact was effectively a new EU treaty, with the UK and Czech Republic excluded.

Holding up the new compact in Parliament, Miliband said: “It looks like a treaty and sounds like a treaty.” He said that it would encroach on the single market, and he ridiculed Cameron for leaving the UK outside the meetings of the signatories, saying that the UK’s last line of defence was now the European Commission.

Indeed, doubts have been expressed before on whether the EU institutions, namely the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, who will police the new fiscal compact, can serve two masters – the eurozone and the European Union. These doubts have been dismissed by the European Commission, which said the new treaty lays on firm legal ground as Britain remained "an exception" with its opt-out.

A phantom veto

Cameron should not have walked out of the summit in December where the deal was forged, Miliband said.

Instead of constructing “phantom vetoes”, he should have been committed to getting a solution to the euro crisis.

Cameron hit back, saying that Miliband would have to make up his mind whether he is for the new pact, against it, or whether he is “weak and indecisive”.

Labour MP Kevin Brennan argued that, in asserting there is no treaty, Cameron reminded him of the Iraqi spin doctor ‘Comical Ali’, who claimed that the American troops were fleeing Baghdad when they were visible on camera behind him.

Bill Cash, a eurosceptic Conservative MP, said the European scrutiny committee that he chairs would examine the lawfulness of the “non-EU treaty”.

Some of the Conservative criticism of Cameron was muted, however, because the Labour party attacked him so forcefully. Cameron received some strong support from moderate Conservatives and his Liberal coalition partners.

Martin Callanan, the leader of British Tory MEPs, issued a statement saying the decision was taken to “appease” the Liberal Democrats and because of a weak legal case.

“There is no doubt that the government's position has altered since the December summit when they were insisting the institutions could not be used,” Callanan added.

Background

An agreement to tighten fiscal discipline in the wider EU-27 proved impossible at the 8-9 December EU summit when British Prime Minister David Cameron demanded that London's financial district be exempted from financial market regulations.

Faced with a UK veto, EU leaders agreed that a new intergovernmental treaty (or fiscal compact) should tighten fiscal discipline in the eurozone and address the bloc’s debt problems. Along with Britain, Czech leaders have indicated they are not prepared to sign it.

The deal is to be signed by March 2012 and ratified before the end of the year.