In the Daily Telegraph of 2 October 2011, Robert Winnett, the newspaper's deputy political editor, wrote an interesting short piece about David Cameron's potential future plans for the UK's long-term relationship with the European Union. For those who live outwith the UK, the Daily Telegraph is a right of centre "quality" newspaper, read in the main by a middle class audience, most of whom would be supporters of the Conservative party. It would be fair to describe it as "euro-sceptic" and it is famously against any more power leakage from the UK to Europe.
In the article, he writes, "the Prime Minister speculated that European-wide reforms, needed to rescue the euro, could give the Government an opportunity to demand the repatriation of some powers." The occasion was the opening of the Conservative Party's recent annual conference.
Later on at the same meeting, Cameron became more specific. "I don't want Britain to leave the European Union," he said. "What most people want in this country, I believe, is not actually to leave the European Union but to reform the European Union and make sure the balance of powers between a country like Britain and Europe is better."
He continued that the EU may need to redraw key treaties to secure the future stability of the euro. "Even though this country is not directly involved in the single currency crisis, Britain would have to agree to the plans and that would give the Government an opportunity to secure other concessions." In other words, Cameron found himself in a position that every negotiator likes - he had something they wanted - and he was trying to use their need to extract concessions in other areas.
Since then of course, events have moved on. Faced with an open revolt of euro-sceptic members of parliament at the beginning of this week, Mr Cameron offered some full and frank advice to the leaders of countries within the euro zone. This so angered Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, that in Monday 24 October's Independent, he is reported to have scolded Mr Cameron thus: "we are sick of you criticising us and telling us what to do," ... losing patience at what he perceived to be Mr Cameron's hectoring from the single currency's sidelines. "You say you hate the euro and now you want to interfere in our meetings."
There are a couple of interesting lessons for a negotiator.
- Try where possible to ensure that all your spokespeople, sales staff and company representatives are aligned with the corporate message. Mr Cameron's message was weakened by the lack of support amongst his party members, making him an easier target for Mr Sarkozy.
- Trade for concessions when you have the chance. If the other party needs your support, help, or a concession, think about what you need or want from them. Mr Cameron's linkage of two seemingly unrelated issues - the weak euro and the repatriation of some of the UK's powers from Europe - is a good example of the potential exploitation of the other side's position that may be available to a sharp negotiator.