Coffee House

Cameron calls on his ‘Northern Alliance’ to help stop Jean-Claude Juncker

10 June 2014

David Cameron visits Sweden today to discuss the future of the EU with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. The Prime Minister is attempting to block former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker from securing the top job in Brussels. Earlier this year, Fraser Nelson explained how Cameron’s ‘Northern Alliance’ may reshape Europe.

If David Cameron were to divide Europe up, he’d make some crude distinctions. There would be the basket cases, like Italy, Spain, Greece, France — examples, by and large, of how countries should not be run. Then there’d be the former Soviet bloc, sceptical about Brussels because they recently escaped a remote, controlling bureaucracy and don’t want to repeat the experience. Then come the good guys, the people with whom he intends to reshape the continent: the Germans, the Dutch and the Scandis. This is the group that the Prime Minister has started referring to as his ‘Northern Alliance’.

Mr Cameron has, until now, had little interest in the machinations of the European Union. To him, politics is primarily social — so he makes alliances by making friends. When François Hollande turned up for a visit, he was taken down to the pub and served a ploughman’s lunch. Angela Merkel, by contrast, is being treated like a homecoming empress. Plans for her visit included an address to both Houses of Parliament, lunch at 10 Downing Street and an audience with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. This pageantry is all the more surprising given the fact that Cameron doesn’t have any favours to ask — at least, not now. He’s buttering her up for the big one, when he wants to change the terms of Britain’s EU membership and have the result of his efforts put to the country in a referendum.

What might Cameron want then? He has yet to say, which makes it difficult for the Germans to support him. This is where Mark Rutte, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, comes in. Cameron has known him for years, and once bent the Commons’ rules by giving him lunch in a dining room reserved for MPs. For an enthusiastic Anglophile like Rutte, such gestures are much appreciated. He was in Britain again last week, invited to Chequers for talks and dinner. The two leaders have much to talk about (besides floods) — both are moderates in their mid forties, leading coalitions and implementing austerity at home. Both are facing challenges from Eurosceptic populists: Nigel Farage in Britain, and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands.

Both want radical reform to the European Union, but Rutte has a hard plan — one that could easily double as a Cameron manifesto. He wants to put Brussels back in its box, giving national parliaments the power to veto EU directives they don’t like. If more than a third of member states dislike an EU idea, he says, it should bite the dust. He also plans a new manifesto for the EU: it should stop spewing out directives, and act only when national parliaments cannot. Less interference, less spending, fewer diktats, more democracy. Precisely the sort of package that Cameron would like to offer in a referendum — albeit with a British stamp on it.

Angela Merkel should have no problem with any of these reforms. This is what Cameron would see as the ‘Northern Alliance’ idea of how countries should be run in a modern Europe — and the consensus extends well beyond the current political elite. A YouGov poll this week for Open Europe shows a clear majority in both Britain and Germany agreeing with the Rutte proposal: that more policies should be decided by national parliaments, and fewer by the EU level. When Brits were asked which European leader they’d most like to replace Cameron, Mrs Merkel came top and Mr Rutte second. We are, it seems, all northerners now.

The attraction of a Northern Alliance will, of course, be tied to the Scandimania now sweeping Britain. Never has there been so much appetite for all things Nordic: the crime novels, the clothes, the music, the television box-sets and even the booze. The traditional images of Sweden — blondes and Abba — have been joined by Spotify and The Killing. Even Ed Miliband has made a pilgrimage to Stockholm to see what ideas he can bring back to Britain. A creative explosion is under way in northern Europe, and it captures the imaginations of politicians as much as it does those of consumers.

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Not so long ago, the phrase ‘Swedish model’ was taken to mean some kind of third way between capitalism and communism. But this changed in the financial crisis of the early 1990s, after which Sweden was rewired — and a new Swedish model created. It was one where private companies would run hospitals, the underground and even schools. There was a radical individualism, a stress on balanced budgets and decentralisation. This led to an abundance of creativity when it came to policy, which has seen Scandinavia supplant America as the lodestar for the British right. Michael Gove’s school reform is modelled on Sweden’s ‘free school’ experiment, which moved parents and children from struggling council-run schools to a new breed of independently run schools. The most popular chain, International English Schools, reject the ‘progressive’ consensus in Sweden (which involves peculiar ideas about ‘student democracy’) and offer an untrendy traditional education. High demand means free schools educate a fifth of all Swedish sixth-formers. In Britain, there are now 174 free schools.

But what captivates Cameron most is how Scandi conservatives can win elections in left-wing countries. He is close to the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who (like Rutte) is a moderniser in his forties. He responded to the financial crisis not with bailouts but with a permanent tax cut for the low paid — the equivalent to an extra month’s salary every year. He went into the Swedish elections boasting that ‘we are the new workers’ party’ and became the first conservative prime minister ever to be re-elected there.

So it was no surprise, earlier this week, when Cameron’s Conservatives also declared themselves to be ‘the workers’ party’. The next slogan to look out for is ‘People, Not Billions’ — this was the war cry of Erna Solberg, nicknamed ‘Iron Erna’, who became Norway’s second female prime minister last October. Her slogan was intended to assure voters that Norway’s Conservatives think individuals are every bit as important as fiscal matters. She won on an agenda of privatisation, lowering top tax rates, and supply-side reforms.

At times, it seems Cameron is trying to make Britain an honorary member of Scandinavia. For the last three years, he has convened a UK-Nordic-Baltic Conference, now known as ‘Northern Future’. This has the benefit of involving another reformer, Estonia, whose solution to the economic crisis was a substantial cut in government spending while keeping taxes at a flat 21 per cent. Its reward was almost four straight years of extraordinary economic growth. Its experience does help remind Cameron that the conservative formula of sound money, regulatory restraint and low taxes works.

At these conferences, Cameron’s self-styled Northerners discuss everything from green energy to childcare provision. But the fact they’re discussing anything at all is significant. The left-leaning Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter smelt a rat: ‘Behind the scenes, this Northern Alliance will debate ways to frustrate a “French model” for the European economy,’ it wrote. Cameron was taking a risk, it said, in setting up a group that could be seen as a splinter group from the EU.

He is guilty as charged. The Prime Minister does not share Blair’s fantasies about somehow ‘leading’ Europe. His Europe is one where countries have the freedom to adopt whatever policies they like. If the old Protestant, now secular Europe wants to focus on work, smaller government, jobs and personal liberty then it should be free to do so. Just as the old Catholic, now secular Europe (France, Spain, Italy) should be free to adopt dirigiste politics, and see how they work out. If M. Hollande wants France to join Club Med, and to tax the wealth creators all the way to Russia, good luck to him — but he must leave the northern countries to pursue a different path.

The Prime Minister should, however, be careful what he wishes for. The Nordic model is not without its problems. Free schools mean the occasional school failure, which brings bad headlines (rumour has it that a Swedish-run free school in Britain is soon to be judged by Ofsted to be ‘inadequate’). And because Scandinavian workers enjoy substantial protection (it’s very expensive to fire anyone), employers are reluctant to hire. Newcomers to the jobs market — young people and immigrants — find themselves on the wrong side of a wall built around the world of employment. When immigrants ended up rioting on the streets of Stockholm last summer, it was a fairly clear sign of trouble in this Nordic paradise.

What’s more, Reinfeldt may have pushed his tax-cutting agenda as far as it can go in Sweden. Voters now seem more concerned about Sweden’s public service provision, and Anders Borg, who recently chopped off his trademark ponytail, spent last week outlining plans to raise taxes (on booze and tobacco). There is no sense of economic crisis in Sweden, but there is a feeling that after eight years of Reinfeldt it might be time for a change. Opinion polls suggest he’s on course to lose the September elections.

In the Netherlands, Mark Rutte faces similar problems: the coalition he leads is volatile, and he may struggle to last another three years. Even Estonia’s supply-side magic seems to be fading — it said earlier this month that economic growth has unexpectedly ground to a halt. Mrs Solberg, whom Cameron entertained a few weeks ago in No. 10, is of limited strategic use as Norway is not an EU member.

There are some Conservatives who believe all this is too important to leave to personal chemistry, and that a British negotiator should be appointed to start work on the deal that would be put to the country in a referendum. Sir John Major has openly made this case. But Cameron, I understand, is less certain — believing that making such an appointment would be to delegate too huge a responsibility. In the end, he believes the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary will have to renegotiate British membership — and it will occupy their time if the Tories should win the next election. Besides, who knows what Europe will look like by 2017?

Here lies Mr Cameron’s problem. He has gathered together a group of like-minded Europeans, who have a plausible and radical agenda to reshape the EU. He has successfully built a Northern Alliance — but he doesn’t need it now. He needs it in the run-up to his 2017 referendum. Between now and then lie the Swedish, French, Dutch and UK elections. It could well be that Mrs Merkel is visiting Britain at a rare moment in history when conservative stars are aligned. By 2017, as Cameron knows, things may look very different.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 

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  • global city

    “Not so long ago, the phrase ‘Swedish model’ was taken to mean some kind of third way between capitalism and communism.”


    Frazer, you need to get a life.

  • Conway

    Even Ed Miliband has made a pilgrimage to Stockholm to see what ideas he can bring back to Britain.” He should have gone to Malmö to see what is in store for Britain thanks to his Party’s policies.

  • Conway

    Not so long ago, the phrase ‘Swedish model’ was taken to mean some kind of third way between capitalism and communism.” Shows how out of touch politicians are, then. To me “Swedish model” always meant a tall, leggy blonde!

  • Conway

    When François Hollande turned up for a visit, he was taken down to the
    pub and served a ploughman’s lunch. Angela Merkel, by contrast, is being
    treated like a homecoming empress. Plans for her visit included an
    address to both Houses of Parliament, lunch at 10 Downing Street and an
    audience with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
    ” Surely that reflects their relative status in the ruling elite of the EU. France thinks it’s running it, but Germany actually runs it because they hold the purse strings.

  • Denis_Cooper

    If Cameron can’t persuade Merkel to defer to his wishes even on the minor matter of who should be the President of the EU Commission :

    then he certainly wouldn’t be able to persuade her to agree that the UK could remain in the EU but not be subject to the fundamental principle of “ever closer union” that the original six EEC members enshrined in the very first line of their 1957 Treaty of Rome and that was reiterated in the Maastricht Treaty agreed by Major in 1992.

    But even if Cameron could persuade Merkel to defer to his wishes on this minor matter he still wouldn’t be able to persuade her to agree that UK could remain in the EU but not be subject to the fundamental principle of “ever closer union” that the original six EEC members enshrined in the very first line of their 1957 Treaty of Rome and that was reiterated in the Maastricht Treaty agreed by Major in 1992.

    And that obstacle to Cameron getting the kind of EU treaty changes he claims to want would be a thousand times greater than anything that Juncker could do to frustrate him, for the simple reason that EU TREATY CHANGES ARE NOT IN THE GIFT OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE EU COMMISSION, whoever holds that post could try to obstruct or delay treaty changes but could not prevent the member state governments making whatever changes they wanted to their treaties.

  • Denis_Cooper

    “He wants to put Brussels back in its box, giving national parliaments the power to veto EU directives they don’t like. If more than a third of member states dislike an EU idea, he says, it should bite the dust.”

    Just another form of transnational majority voting; in 1975 we were promised that our Parliament would be able to veto new EU laws on its own, without having to enlist the help of other national parliaments, and nothing less than that will do.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    I do admire the Speccie kid’s stubbornness, in persistently seeking a “win” of any type for the incompetent Cameroons. It can be a fabricated “win”, as long as it’s a “win”, apparently. So now we have this current fabrication.

    The problem is, lad, the people who understand your guy Dave also understand this to be a fabrication, and there’s plenty enough of those people to have Dave’s head mounted on a spike 10.75 months from now.

  • Reconstruct

    When Europe divides, it divides along the lines of the 30 Year War. In detail.

    So it’s probably a good thing that Cameron is going to Sweden to see King Gustavus Adolphus’s successor.

  • dalai guevara

    I admire how Fraser is turning ever more Blairite by the day.
    “The attraction of a Northern Alliance will, of course, be tied to the Scandimania now sweeping Britain.”

    Well of course, just like in the Nineties – when light Scandinavian furniture swept away the old Victorian heavyweights, the Noughties – when Scandinavian school designs and ideology enlightened this nation, now – when Scandinavian commercial office uberspace outsmarts the deeply troubling deep plan, artificially lit, artificially ventilated ‘unspace’ that is our legacy of the past one hundred years. Can we learn from them as part of a family of European nations? Yes we can!

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …so that’s where you got your idea for the sockpuppet army?

      • dalai guevara

        when the resident coffee house troll agrees with me yet again all he needs to do is say so.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Actually, the house troll is you and your army of sockpuppets, lad.

          • dalai guevara

            Look matey, we know you are there. Only here in fact, never anywhere else – you are a right loyal sport aren’t you? That’s soo great! Now off you trot, play with your other muppets.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              Yes, we know you and your army of sockpuppets are here, lad.

  • MirthaTidville

    You really would like for Dave to be on to something here, wouldnt you?…Then you remember its Dave we are talking about…………..

  • Swiss Bob

    This is nothing more than a diversion. There is no other candidate that would be of any substantive difference.

    The whole thing is a pathetic sideshow.

    • dalai guevara

      let’s send Andy Mitchell rather than Andy Lansley as EU commissioner and have a bit of British pitpug fun!

      • Swiss Bob

        It’s a shell game, whatever option you take the result will always be the same.

    • saffrin


      No, it’s the opening shot of Cameron’s 2015 General Election campaign.
      Too bad for Dave few will be fooled by it.

      • Kitty MLB

        The election campaign will be about the economy and that we are doing better then IMF predicted and they grovelled.
        Its all about the economy and that Labour are economically bankrupt.
        Cameron has no more policies to implement and in all but name has
        had a parting of the ways with the Lib Dums.
        The EU is a irritating succubus.. but you cannot base an election campaign around that one subject.

        • Conway

          Given that the EU affects taxation, immigration, green energy policies and that the euro’s problems also have a knock on effect on our economy, I completely disagree with your last sentence.

          • global city

            They don’t seem to understand that.

        • saffrin

          LibLabCon hope to make the general election about the economy but at least kippers know the only way we can control our economy is by leaving the diktats Brussels dictate.
          It shouldn’t be too difficult for Nigel to point out that Brussels’ green taxes are forcing much of our manufacturing abroad by proxy, closing much of our heavy industry and all of our coal fired power stations.
          It shouldn’t be too difficult for Nigel to point out that while our borders are wide open to at least 480 million EU members, unemployment levels can only go up.

      • Conway

        I agree, it’s posturing that is designed to make Cameron look EU sceptic and tough on the EU to try to fool the electorate, but in fact it will have no practical result. We’ll still end up further into the USE mire.

  • Pier66

    As I wrote before,
    all Cameron have to do is call an early referendum to go out of this EU,
    same date of next GE 7 may 2015.
    Will be a landslide for Tory and a GREAT result to go out of EU!
    Otherwise many Conservative could move to UKIP, to let Egg milliband back to destroy
    our country….so thinking about,
    Nowdays we have so many important power country do have huge commercial business…
    we got USA, Japan, Australia, Canada, Asia, Scandinavia,
    Let them scum country like spain, portugal greece, france, east europe go down destroy each other from socialist regime!

    • Wessex Man

      oh dear.

      • Kitty MLB

        Do you not agree with the early referendum idea,
        and do you not agreee with stopping socialism.
        Or do you think we should wait around for you to
        do those things.
        We do not have forever to wait and its country
        before party.

        • dalai guevara

          Exactly luv, well said.
          September awaits.
          Tie your shoe laces.

        • Conway

          I suspect that Wessex Man, like me, does not believe that Dave would ever go for an election in 2015. As for stopping socialism, Dave could have done that in the last election but he was so wet and feeble that even against possibly the worst PM ever he could not even squeak a majority. Since he has been in power, we appear to have had socialism lite. I do, however, agree with your last sentence. Time is of the essence and we need to get a real pro-UK party into government. Sadly, it isn’t any of the current big two and a half.

    • Kitty MLB

      Oh very brave and noble of you to venture into these engulfing kippery waters. I agree with you, we do need a
      earlier referendum but I suppose the prime minister
      needs to be diplomatic as we will still have dealings with
      the EU after we remove ourselves from the succubus
      that is the EU.
      And no one could possibly support tweedledee and
      tweedledum and give both wee Ed’s the matches back
      after what they did to the economy.
      We have the fastest growing economy and socialism
      is being rejected, here and across Europe.

      • Conway

        Since we are an important market for the EU, I don’t think we need to be too diplomatic. Money will talk as it always does.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    So many words, to so little effect. Here’s what you need to know:

    They’ll turn him over, they always do.

    • Kitty MLB

      Oh I don’t think so.But its a sport here, wolves baying
      for Camerons blood. Europe are clearly turning away from
      the left. These Northern countries do not want a United States of Europe and they are sick of the EU who they
      say doesn’t represent them. And they are looking
      towards a country that is not geographically attached
      to Europe, so that is where we come in.

      • Rhoda Klapp8

        I don’t want his blood, I want him to man up or shut up. All we get is triangulation. Government by least offence. And what evidence is there that anybody is looking to him to front up reform in the face of the Germany/France alliance and the legions of transnationalism?

        • Kitty MLB

          Oh Cameron must not shut up and the same goes for all other
          countries of Europe who don’t want a United States of Europe
          under the dictatorship of Germany and France.
          Merkel is being a bully and this should be a warning to all of them that disagree with them. And its not as easy as shouting
          a few words at Barroso from the EU parliament.
          If we leave the EU we will be in opposition with these people
          as far as world trade is concerned. So its best not to make enemies.

          • Rhoda Klapp8

            Yeah, make friends with the biggest bully. It probably worked at Eton too. Giving away your country so as not to make a fuss? We OUGHT to be in opposition to these people.

            • Kitty MLB

              What’s Eton got to do with anything? Oh dear you haven’t
              been mixing with that Milipede Miscreant again, I hope not.
              No we cannot be in opposition with the. We need to be able
              to leave with good feelings. After all, we cannot actually build
              a large wall around the United Kingdom when we leave.
              They still will be our closest neighbours, unfortunately we cannot be physically moved.

              • Rhoda Klapp8

                Article 50 gives us two years to work out an amenable settlement, then we can knock down the EU-imposed walls and take our place back in the world. N o more little european mindset. They would much to lose by making it difficult.

            • global city

              yes. If Cameron comes through the airport stinking of crumpets then we’ll know exactly what went on in that castle.

          • global city

            What on Earth does that mean?

            Do you really think that governments buy stuff and if we leave the EU Germany and France will buy everything and not let us have any…. like a big bag of beans?

            you’re supposed to be a Tory and yet you seem to have no understanding of business.

  • Hello

    Gosh, neither Reinfeldt, Rutte or Cameron are wearing ties — it must be informal. These guys obviously get on. Just friends having a bit of fun in Sweden, really. It must be great to get on so well with other European leaders. I reckon they’d enjoy each others company even if they weren’t. So much in common. It’s just great really.

    • HookesLaw

      The tie. The great millstone around men’s necks.

      • Hello

        I know. You just feel freedom when you take that off, don’t you? Completely different person, really.

        Let’s not forget Angie, either. She’s a saucy one. Bet they all fancy a bit of her. Just some friendly competition among pals, you know?

        • Wessex Man

          oh dear sad person alert.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Nothing looks worse, IMHO, than a good suit worn without a tie. It is one of the more unfortunate sartorial aberrations indulged in by Modern Man In The Media.

        If Spoonface wants to be ‘comfortable’ when he is engaged on the nation’s business he might as well wear a tracksuit or one of those stupid schoolboy outfits that he dons on holiday.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …or maybe a short sleeve pullover like he did with his friend “Barack”, when they got together at the game, being pals and all as they are, and then Barry tucked him into bed for a nap on Air Force One, like a good little boy.

        • Conway

          I’d rather see him in a smart polo neck rather than an open-necked shirt with no tie when wearing a suit.

      • mitate

        it all started to go wrong with the world when thrusting young political things decided that ties were passe. clothes, and ties in particular, maketh the man. oh, and apostrophe in wrong place, old disrespectful bean.

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