The UK’s decision to prevent a re-drawing of the European Treaty through use of a veto was perhaps not a surprise. Perhaps the greater surprise was the lack of other countries ready to express their concerns. Time will tell if others that remain party to the inter-governmental agreement currently under development will be able to remain party to it. Already there seem to be cracks appearing between the Eurozone and Non-Eurozone countries along the lines that prevented the UK from signing up.
But as a case study of partnership working, the events over the past week or so are really interesting. Here’s my take, in the context of the collaboration cycle.
Accusations have been made that the UK delegation at the summit did not engage enough with colleagues in France and Germany, particularly. So perhaps David Cameron was at fault and hadn’t done enough connecting for this important summit.
Having said that, Cameron did meet with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel. It’s difficult to believe the British PM did not express his concerns about a new deal then. If he didn’t, then he fell at the first hurdle. Establishing wants and offers at the connecting stage can be a vital action in smoothing any future outcome.
The fact that there was such apparent surprise at the UK position was in itself a surprise. Much of the blame for the lack of a contract with which to move forward involving all EU states, has been directed at David Cameron. (It’s interesting to note that Labour and Lib Dem politicians haven’t really come up with an alternative other than “we would have talked more.”)
Given the UK’s position in the EU and the significance of financial services to the UK economy, the question has to be asked of France and Germany, why they didn’t pose the questions to their UK partner. It’s not as if both countries have never focused on their own interests before that of their European partners! Perhaps this also goes back to their connecting with David Cameron; perhaps they could have done more too.
We know that contracting is a continuous process, and an initial agreement was made on the actions necessary to begin the process of creating a framework for those countries inside and outside the Eurozone to work together on the financial issues. That agreement still has to be ratified in a number of national parliaments and could give rise to further re-contracting.
So we sort of have an initial contract that is really about working out what the final contract should be for some of the partners.
Well, one thing that happened in the collaborating phase was that the UK and the rest agreed not to collaborate; at least on the issue being discussed at the summit.
Of course, good partnership practice says we can both compete and partner with the same stakeholder. In any case, the UK – as the German Chancellor has stated - remains a significant player in all other aspects of the EU, and therefore collaboration continues.
It is also interesting to note the role that the UK will play in the ongoing financial framework discussions; an “observer” role. One could argue that the UK was now well placed to provide brokering support to the ongoing discussions. But, politics will, I’m sure, prevent that from happening.
Normally, one would expect a review now: lessons learned, what can we do next, and indeed, we have already seen this happen at a multi-national level and certainly within the UK parliament. And there remains little doubt that rightly, the UK will continue to engage with its European partners across a range of critical issues.
* * * * *
Partnership working is hard work, and what we have witnessed is the impact of tension within two key partnerships; the European Union and UK Coalition Government. This situation certainly looks to be the biggest test for the EU to date; at least until the next biggest test!
One thing is for sure, the reality of joint working is plain for all to see; at the national and European level. We can work more closely with our partners on one issue than on others. And on some, we will compete. But holding the tension between these situations and enhancing its creative energy is, and will continue to be critical for the partnership’s ongoing success.