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