Der Spiegel reports: For the last supper, quail salad is served. It’s 7:30 on Tuesday evening, and the leaders of 27 European Union countries — without British Prime Minister David Cameron — are scheduled to meet the next morning. A whiff of nostalgia is in the air, even if everyone is angry with Cameron, who because of a power struggle in his party, didn’t just gamble away his country’s EU membership, but may ultimately have triggered a political meltdown in the proud United Kingdom.
Cameron is buoyant, doing his best to avoid appearing as the tragic figure he has now become. His counterparts from across the EU are tactful enough to keep quiet about what they really think of the outgoing British premier. They speak of Britain’s historical accomplishments — at a time when the country, after 40 years of EU membership, looks to be leaving the bloc.
Taavi Roivas, the youthful prime minister of Estonia, who always sat next to Cameron during European Council meetings, expresses his gratitude that British soldiers ensured his country’s independence 100 years ago. French President François Hollande recalls how British and French soldiers fought side-by-side in World War I. The Irish prime minister notes that his country was at war with England for almost 1,000 years and that it was really only the EU that brought lasting peace.
And what about Cameron? He says that he wouldn’t do anything differently if he had it all to do over again. It wasn’t a mistake to hold the referendum, he tells the bewildered gathering, but the EU leaders refrain from contradicting him. Perhaps one important element of the European project is that it is no longer seen as necessary to respond to every folly. Only at the very end of the evening, when an EU diplomat is asked whether Cameron was presented with a departing gift, did he answer laconically: “He got a warm meal.”
By the next morning, no one is thinking of Cameron anymore. He made history, if involuntarily, but history has now moved on from the British prime minister. The vote in favor of Brexit, after all, hasn’t just convulsed British politics, it has also set the stage for the next monumental power struggle within the EU.
On one hand, that struggle is about the question as to how uncompromising the EU should be in hustling Britain out of the union. For those in favor of a strong and powerful EU, for those who always saw the UK as a bothersome obstacle in their path, the British withdrawal process can’t proceed fast enough. Plus, French President Hollande and others want to use Britain as an example to show the rest of Europe how bleak and uncomfortable life can be when one leaves the house of Europe. Hollande, of course, has good reason for his approach: The right-wing populist party Front National has threatened to follow Cameron’s example should party leader Marine Le Pen emerge victorious in next year’s presidential elections. [Continue reading…]