British Prime Minister David Cameron helped Britain save face. At the same time, he most probably did the same for a large number of citizens in continental Europe. His decision to veto attempts by France and Germany to indirectly revise the treaties of the European Union, came straight from the independent-minded tradition of the British people: the belief that the country must, above all, defend its own interests, regardless of reactions from other European states.
The Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the coalition that took power in May 2010, deem Cameron?s action could have disastrous consequences for Britain. But the markets? reactions are not on their side. In any case, no one can be sure what the safest route out of the crisis is — neither German Chancellor Angela Merkel, nor French President Nicolas Sarkozy, or any of their satellites hold the answer.
Cameron, critics warn, risks marginalizing Britain. But one of the most charming periods in British history was that of ?splendid isolation.?
The policy, associated with Lord Salisbury, who was prime minister for most of the period, embodied the imperial traditions of the British Isles — which are separated from the rest of Europe by more than the English Channel.
Britain, as an empire of offshore colonies, was interested in European developments only when the continent?s equilibrium was at risk. Its involvement in two world wars was aimed at averting the disanalogous increase in German influence.
It is no coincidence that the country most worried about the stance of the British prime minister was Germany. Merkel made some effort to bridge the gap, while Sarkozy appeared to feel vindicated by recent developments.
Cameron has 10 years? parliamentary experience. But his family history goes back over two centuries with links to the House of Windsor. He is not like the self-made politicians who are running Europe today. The latter do all they can to grab people?s votes, yet never hesitate to adapt, always in the name of saving the country.
The British prime minister was accused of giving in to the Euroskeptic pressure from conservative voters. But Merkel and Sarkozy behave in similar ways. This is how governments in parliamentary system operate. Cameron?s refusal to go along with the decisions of Berlin and Paris could inspire a reaction to Germany?s domination of Europe via economic means.