A report in The Daily Telegraph Business Section, February 13 under the by-line of Bruno Waterfield, the long serving Brussels correspondent, begins as follows:
“David Cameron has told Alexis Tspiras, the Greek Prime Minister, that he must make peace with Germany and the Eurozone or risk damaging Britain’s economic recovery.”
It is not difficult to imagine the reaction of the recently elected marxist Prime Minister of Greece to this kind of post colonial arrogance, one that will be readily understood by Telegraph writers who routinely castigate the Germans for bullying the Greeks! No doubt Cameron put his point across with a good deal more tact and politeness but the way in which he is reported says a great deal about the mind set of the Eurosceptic media and by extension the audience for whom they are writing.
Interviewed on the Today Program at the time of the Merkel/Hollande mission to Moscow, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond dismissed the initiative as a side show. He explained that the decisions that mattered would be taken in Munich the following weekend when the Americans supported by their loyal British allies would be calling the shots, the US was the only power that really mattered. As we now know things turned out rather differently; America was not present at the talks in Minsk but the German Chancellor and the French President represented Western interests with the full consent and backing of Barack Obama. There was no sign of Mr Hammond, nor did he appear to play a significant role at Munich.
These parallel episodes graphically illustrate the tin ear that makes it so hard for Britain to make progress in negotiations with European partners; we are so obsessed with our post imperial delusions that we find it impossible to be an international team player. We cannot resist the temptation to denigrate and patronise our partners and natural allies while clinging to the illusion that the allegedly special relationship with the USA gives us an automatic entitlement to great power status.
Such attitudes are actively undermining Britain’s interests; Ukraine and Greece are two major crises facing the West and require a united front with a common set of policy objectives. Instead of engaging in the process with goodwill and constructive proposals, Britain prefers to carp from the side lines and whine about “our national interest” as if other countries’ don’t have interests or they don’t count. As a result we are no more than bit part players in the discussions over Ukraine and Greece although in both cases we have important interests not to say vital interests to protect.
It would be comforting to believe that these self-defeating attitudes are confined to politicians and commentators but sadly that is not the case: I am afraid that too many Britons brought up on a diet of self serving ideas of national exceptionalism will think they are perfectly justified; judging by his windy exhortations to “Believe in Britain” Nigel Farage intends to make them the focus of his appeal to the electorate. Belief in Britain is not a substitute for hard headed pragmatic analysis of where our interests lie and how best to achieve them.
When is the Nation going to wake up?