The leader of the devolved Welsh government, who is from the Labour party, distanced himself from Cameron, a Conservative, saying that he is less eurosceptic and more at ease with notions of European federalism.
Whilst agreeing with the substance of the veto cast by Cameron at the last summit, the chief of the Cardiff-based Senedd – or Welsh Parliament – said the UK premier had got the "mood music" wrong.
“It's quite clear to me that the usual work that would be done in advance of a meeting such as this wasn't done,” he said, adding: “The fact that the UK was left on its own is in many ways a failure of diplomacy in that regard, although I have great respect for the UK's representatives in Brussels.”
He said the fault lay with the British government, rather than its diplomats. “I think what also didn't help is the fact that [Cameron] returned to the UK and spent time apparently celebrating what's been described as a ‘veto’ with the more extreme eurosceptic MPs in his own party,” Jones said.
With a population of three million, Wales is the United Kingdom’s third-largest region after England and Scotland, with limited devolved powers compared to the latter.
Call for more consultation
The Welsh leader said that much had been done, including by Cameron, to repair the diplomatic situation since December, but he called on the British premier to consult with the UK’s regional leaders more frequently before taking big decisions on the European relationship, and to avoid adopting an unhelpful tone.
Jones warned against giving an impression to prospective investors and companies in Wales “that somehow the UK is on its way out of the EU” or “that the UK was being awkward for the sake of it”, adding: “We promote ourselves as a place to invest in because we are part of the EU.”
The Welsh have distinct interests in the EU because of their heavy reliance on farm subsidies relating to wheat and dairy production, and the European market for Welsh lamb and other products.
“Wales is less eurosceptic than England … because people can see the difference that European money has made to the Welsh economy and they do tend to take a different view,” Jones claimed.
He said that Wales “would sit more easily in a Europe which had a different structure, which is more federal,” but added that the EU needed to be more transparent, explaining: “It's absolutely crucial that [EU] citizens feel they have an influence on what the Commission, for example, does. And that isn't the case at the moment in many ways.”
UK rocked by Scottish question
The interjection comes against a backdrop of uncertainty over the future of UK unity, following Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s call yesterday (25 January) for a referendum in 2014 on Scottish independence.
Salmond’s insistence that the terms of the referendum should be decided by the Scottish Parliament have created a backlash, with the UK coalition government accusing him of breaching rules governing the devolved territory.
Salmond has said that a fully independent Scotland would negotiate EU membership afresh, and give England and Wales the chance to do the same.
The Welsh leader, by contrast, underlined his opposition to Welsh independence, saying “it is not in our interests financially, socially and economically”.
Regional issues are coming to the fore in other EU countries. The financial crisis has exacerbated questions over the financial autonomy of cash-strapped Spain’s fiercely independent regions.
Meanwhile in Italy, debate is growing over the funding of the autonomous regions with special status: the wealthier northern Friuli and Trentino regions enjoy similar privileges to poorer Sicily and Sardinia.