The speech that never was

David Cameron - License Some rights reserved by Statsministerens kontor While David Cameron’s much hyped speech on Europe has been postponed, it is not clear that this makes much difference. The key points were briefed to the press in advance so we can see the point.

Full marks for not wasting good copy already written go to the Economist which draws four conclusions, including this one:

The prime minister is trying to Europeanise Euroscepticism. The British often assume they are the only people in Europe who have a problem with the EU. Mr Cameron wants to remind them this isn’t the case.

based on the following quote

There is a growing frustration that the EU is seen as something that is done to people rather than acting on their behalf. And this is being intensified by the very solutions required to resolve the economic problems. People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the continent.And yes, of course, we are seeing this frustration with the EU very dramatically in Britain. Europe’s leaders have a duty to hear these concerns. And we have a duty to act on them.

The Economist calls this “building on a pretty weak ground”. But there may be some truth the idea that in Northern and Eastern Europe there is more support for free trade, and less for federalism than in central and Southern Europe. But if so, how on earth does Cameron contrive to make himself a minority of one at European summits? There are potential allies out there for a Eurorealist Britain, but this is the first time Cameron has shown any awareness of it. Does this remark signal that constructive engagement is likely at the next European summit, or will it follow the established pattern of harrumphing, leaving early, and declaring victory to the domestic press?

What we don’t have is the detail to the menu of powers that Cameron would like to repatriate. The Conservative backbench report ‘Manifesto for change’ (pdf) is probably the best guide. But I wonder whether the bloc opt out from crime and policing measures is in there to meet the demands of the repatriation narrative rather than because a rational case can be made for doing so.

So is Britain still sleepwalking towards exit? Cameron warns of a “drift” towards exit, which is pretty close but involves being awake and aware of what is happening – and perhaps doing nothing about it.

* Joe Otten is a councillor in Sheffield, and Friday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice

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4 Comments

  • Anyone reading the comments from readers of German newspapers like Die Welt and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung will see that euroscepticism is alive and extremely powerful elsewhere in Europe. Many Germans are fed up with an overweening Brussels nomenklatura that wants continually to extend the reach of its powers. They do not want to withdraw from the EU, but they do want someone to say enough is enough and for the EU to become more slimmed down, efficient and focused on core tasks like ensuring free trade. Certainly they do not want the EU increasing its power and budgets, mainly because they are the ones who have to pay for it. The problem for the Germans is that none of their mainstream politicians dare to voice this opinion in clear terms.

    I think that as long as we seek to build a common position for reform in the EU, we have a good chance of achieving it, since we Northern Europeans are the main paymaster countries. The trouble for Cameron is that for party political reasons, he is going about it in entirely the wrong way.

  • “Germans … do not want the EU increasing its power and budgets, mainly because they are the ones who have to pay for it.”

    Germans need to understand that they gain massively from the Eurozone, which provides them with an undervalued currency and thereby makes their exports so successful. Meanwhile the PIIGS lose massively, since Eurozone provides them with an overvalued currency, they cannot export, and their industries die.

    The solution being touted is progress toward financial unity. If it gets as far as creating a United States of Europe, it could work. But in a USE, there will need to be financial transfers from rich to poor regions, just as in the UK, money flows from London to the periphery. Those transfers will be much greater than the costs which Germany now pays to the EU. They don’t realise just how much they are getting away with it at the moment!

  • ‘SUBSIDIARITY’ is a word that has disappeared from the EU lexicon. It could be the Lib Dems secret weapon at the Euro-elections next year. Having political decisions made at the most local competent tier of Government is central to our philosophy and what’s more it is in chime with electorate. This means returning some decisions back from the EU to the UK Government and we should positive in campaigning for this. I say this as a strong supporter of our positive engagement with our partners in the EU and appeal to our Euro- MPs and the national leadership to engage in this debate.

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