A British government led but not dominated by David Cameron’s Conservatives would probably mean business as usual for the UK's dealings in Brussels, concluded a panel of experts at an election de-briefing last Friday (7 May).
At the event, hosted by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), three experts gave their views on the potential implications of the UK election results – which brought a hung parliament – on Britain's position within the EU.
On Friday evening (7 May), it emerged that no party had won a majority and thus no-one had the automatic right to govern. Although the Conservatives won the most seats, gaining more than 90 from Labour, a coalition or minority government will have to be formed based on the outcome of ongoing cross-party negotiations (see 'Background').
Tim Bale, a lecturer at Sussex University and expert on the Conservatives, said that although the election result and absence of a majority government is bad news for the UK, it may well be positive for the EU as it means there cannot be a ''heavily Eurosceptic Tory government''.
Bale did not rule out the possibility of a Labour-Liberal Democrat deal if talks between David Cameron and Nick Clegg do not bear fruit this week. He is sceptical about the progress that could be made in a Conservative-Liberal Democrat partnership owing to some fundamental policy differences.
David Rennie, the head of the Economist's Brussels bureau, pointed out that the Conservative party leadership is undoubtedly anti-EU – referring to Cameron's threat to hold a referendum on the now-ratified Lisbon Treaty – but that a Tory-led government would ''have too much on its plate'' and be ''too busy trying to fix the economy'' to pick fights with the EU.
However, he believes that events could bring UK-EU tensions come to the fore, speculating that another bail-out of an EU country could lead to genuine ''confrontation''. Britain, which is watching the Greece bail-out from the sidelines, would surely be unable to sit back and show no solidarity at all if the same were to happen with Portugal or Spain, he said.
David Healey, senior advisor at Burston-Marsteller and a former European Parliament deputy secretary-general, stressed just how Eurosceptic the current Conservative party is by pointing out that only three Tory MPs voted in favour of the Lisbon Treaty.
However, he believes that a Conservative-led government would probably adopt exactly the same approach towards Brussels as previous UK governments – pursue national interests with efficiency and seek results – and predicted that it could be very much ''business as usual'' for UK-EU relations.
As of Monday evening (10 May), the form of the new UK government remains unclear. Negotiations between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have entered a third day, while Labour are waiting in the wings, ready to talk to Nick Clegg's party should those talks break down.
Tim Bale believes that any deal between Labour and the Liberal Democrats would bring the resignation of Gordon Brown.