I’ve just seen this item in The Independent (UK daily newspaper) by David Owen. Owen was a a Labour government Foreign secretary in the seventies who later became leader of the Social Democratic Party, founded by Labour centrists. He declined to joined the party formed by the merger of the SDP and the Liberal Party , now known as the Liberal Democrats, and made a failed attempt to keep the SDP going on its own. Though the SDP started off as euro-integrationist as one of its core principles, Owen became a moderate Eurosceptic, or possibly a moderate Euro integrationist, these positions inevitably overlap, but in any case identify Owen as not a strong federalist . However he is characterised, he was an opponent of the Euro from the beginning, and generally became an opponent of the more ambitious kinds of Euro Federalists. He appeared to be close to John Major, when he was Prime Minister, John Major who secured an opt out from the Euro when signing unto the Maastricht Treaty.
Despite this record of opposing the Euro, Owen has strongly condemned Cameron’s veto of the plan for a treaty medication promoting fiscal integration in the European Union. As Owen points out, previous opt outs and reservations have not led to the UK withdrawing from EU planning. The Cameron veto means that an intergovernmental agreement will be sought to increase fiscal union, probably still enforceable through EU political and legal institutions. These will have an effect on the City of London (the financial district of London) and Cameron’s veto does not appear to be popular there, though the motive was apparently to defend the City from unwanted European level taxes and regulations.
In doing so, Cameron broke from a negotiating process of constructive engagement and thus rejected the collective wisdom of his predecessors. In 1978 Jim Callaghan decided to join the European Monetary System but not to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism. In 1990 John Major decided to be party to the European Monetary Union but not to join the eurozone. These were decisions taken on grounds of practical prudence. Experience of the EU had shown many people that the empty chair was not the way to win the argument.
Owen’s article is moderate in tone, avoiding the rhetorical excesses all round since the Cameron veto. He is nevertheless highly critical of Cameron, suggesting that his position changed suddenly to appease the hard core Eurosceptics in the Conservative parliamentary party. This analysis, which has been confirmed by others, goes some way to explain the apparent Clegg move from acquiescence to strong opposition in reference to the veto. It simply took time to realise that the context had changed, shortly before the veto, from seeking an agreement to protect the financial sector in the UK to seeking a confrontation in order to appease part of the Conservative Party.