David Cameron travelled to Brussels for the EU summit with a helpful endorsement from, all places, Munich.
In an article for the Times, the professor of economics at the University of Munich, Hans-Werner Sinn, praised the prime minister's recent speech on the EU:
In essence Mr Cameron is right. There is something amiss in the EU. It regulates far too many things that fall outside its remit.
While the prime minister has a new fan in Germany, it appears that he may be struggling to convince some of his own advisers.
In little noticed remarks to the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee on Wednesday, Britain's permanent representative to the EU cast doubt on the prime minister's strategy set out in his speech. The prime minister based his entire strategy – a referendum by the end of 2017 on a "new settlement" for Britain's EU membership – on the calculation that a major revision of the Lisbon treaty will have to be agreed to underpin new governance arrangements for the eurozone.
Sir Jon Cunliffe questioned this thinking when he told the committee:
First of all we can see the dimensions – the sort of axes – on which the eurozone might integrate. Fiscal, economic, financial, perhaps political. But it is very uncertain, if you look at the outcome of the European Councils, how far and how fast they will go and in what order. There is still a lot of agreement to be worked out between the euro countries themselves. So it is not as if there is a sort of joint picture or plan or road map. At the moment those details are being worked out which is what makes the future so uncertain.
In most areas the alliances that countries make across different dossiers don't reflect the eurozone. Across the single market some of the alliances can be very strange. In agriculture, fisheries, single market, foreign policy, justice – the alliances are very different. They are very dossier specific.
But for the countries that normally group around – like the northern economic liberal alliance – they look to the UK, Sweden, Denmark, all the non-eurozone countries, to be part of those alliances when they come to single market issues, issues like trade. There is no evidence of caucusing around that. The evidence from the start of the euro has been that those countries very much want non-euro countries of similar mind in the discussions because it adds weight, particularly the UK because we are a large and influential member state.
Cunliffe's remarks are significant for two reasons:
• He was sitting next to William Hague who turned to Cunliffe to ask him to give the "precise percentage" of the number of votes in the Council of Ministers in which the UK has faced a "eurozone block". This is often called caucusing – the process in which the 17 eurozone members join together to outvote the ten member states outside the single currency. Before answering the question Cunliffe said "first of all" and then gave his thoughts on the uncertainty of eurozone integration. On caucusing, Cunliffe agreed with Hague that there has not been much evidence of this.
• He is one of the most influential "perm reps" in Brussels. Cunliffe was viewed with great suspicion when he arrived in Brussels because he originates from the Treasury whose officials tend to be hostile towards the EU. British "perm reps" are normally foreign office diplomats. But Cunliffe has won respect for his impressive intellect and his understanding of sensibilities among the 26 other EU member states.
It is an open secret in Brussels that Cunliffe believes that the prime minister took a mighty gamble with his EU speech.
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