Why is Cameron's Europe speech so significant?

David Cameron delivers a speech on "the future of the European Union and Britain"s role within it".

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David Cameron's explicit rejection of the idea of "ever closer union" with the words, "for Britain - and perhaps for others - it is not the objective," may prove to be the most historically significant part in his long awaited Europe speech.

Why? When the UK has so often been the European Union's one nation "awkward squad". Doesn't the series of opt outs it has negotiated make this position quite obvious?

It is true that the UK opted out of the 1985 Schengen agreement on borders, of committing to join the Euro, and made sure it would have to opt "in" to a raft of new police and justice powers. There are other countries that have also negotiated opt-outs here and there - so why is today's language significant?

The importance of rejecting ever closer union lies in stating something explicitly that mainstream politics in Europe has been side-stepping for decades. There are many supporters of the European project who imply that unless the whole structure of treaties, summits, and memoranda carries on moving inexorably on, it will wither and die. Could the Conservative leader be the first mainstream European politician to make the case that it doesn't have to be that way?

It is clear there are sections of the European public who share the nervousness of Mr Cameron's grassroots Tories about ever closer integration. In both France and the Netherlands, the public rejected the European constitution in popular votes nearly eight years ago. Sweden voted against joining the Euro, and Denmark also has an opt-out on the single currency.

While public opinion has sometimes coalesced, euro-sceptically, around particular issues in these countries, what has been lacking is a broad philosophical acceptance that integration may have gone far enough or, indeed, as Mr Cameron has argued, need to be reversed in some areas. Indeed where such arguments have been made on the continent, it tends to be by parties on the extremes of Left and Right.

In France or Germany, these types of argument touch deep insecurities about the war and the need to buttress peace by "ever closer union". The real challenge to this philosophy in those two countries comes from the extreme Right. So the idea of setting out an alternative is tainted in the eyes of many Germans or French with an ugly whiff of neo-fascism.

Does the passage of time or the intensity of the economic crisis mean that the old post-war arguments for further integration might be lessening, and that other countries might see a "UKIP effect" in which the heresies, once confined to the fringe, may become newly and respectably mainstream?

Mario Monti, facing a Eurosceptic Silvio Berlusconi in Italian elections, has warned the EU that unless it makes more concessions on the bailout package, "Italy - which has always been a pro-European country - could flee into the hands of populists."

It is an odd thing when a man running for office warns against "populism"; as Mr Monti has a few times in recent months, alluding to anti-EU trends across the continent. And his attitude, as a former EU commissioner and advocate of "ever closer union," highlights that centrist candidates could find themselves in trouble at the polls in some countries if they paint euro-sceptics as extremists.

In the Netherlands too there have been some interesting recent currents, with the centre right party expressing greater reservations about European integration, expropriating some of the language once confined to the extremes. This provides a clue as to why Mr Cameron originally hoped to give his speech in Amsterdam.

Downing Street clearly hopes that someone, anyone, will make common cause with the British prime minister in his argument that European treaty revisions, that may be required to buttress the eurozone, offer an opportunity to re-visit some of the concessions of powers to Brussels. The Netherlands and Sweden, their two main hopes, are not quite ready to do so.

However it will only require a couple of significant European players to align with Mr Cameron for the awkwardness of isolation to lessen and for his platform to be taken more seriously in Europe.

On the assumption that the process he described today does not lead to a UK exit from the EU - for this would require a great many things to go wrong for him - it is the announcement of an explicit policy or set of ideas to counter the idea of "ever closer union" that may prove to be this speech's most important legacy.

Mark Urban Article written by Mark Urban Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Why are people acting like they wont win the next election?

    At this point in time I would vote conservative regardless of whether or not we get a vote.

    Yes, I don't agree with everything they say (but there is nobody I agree 100% with); but the thought of voting any other opposition party makes my spine shiver.

    He has done a good job so far; better than Ed, Farage and Cleg could do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    His entirely inappropriate use of the word "we" in relation to the UK, as if it shared his attitude to the EU as a single entity was telling.

    Scotland, for instance, differs from England, the old from the young etc.

    However, recent polls generally show over 50% not in favour of leaving the EU, and that is the more damning for his ultimatum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    What Cameron has done is lay down the gauntlet for everyone - Eurosceptics, Europhiles, opposition politicians, businesses, European partners alike - to convince the British public the merits of being in the EU and he has given them just over two years to do it.

    It will be interesting to see if, instead of shooting the messenger, they actually take up the challenge that has been set them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Still convinced Cameron;s speech on the UK's relationship with the EU is more to do with his problems with his Party's eurosceptics and his fear of losing votes to UKIP in 2014 Euro Elections and the cost in lost seats in 2015 as UKIP will split the Tory vote.
    Of course UKIP and the eurosceptics will now call for an earlier referendum, before the 2015 election so he's not off the hook either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Dave is a dead man walking.
    He & Gideon have been responsible for making a bad situation worse & it would have been better for us all if the pair of them had never been handed the reins of govt. in Britain.
    Promising a referendum if he gets re elected is a last desperate attempt to stay in power. But it is no good Dave even your own party wants rid of you now. You failed to bring the bacon home!

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.


    "this structural democratic deficit, which cannot be resolved in an
    association of sovereign national states , further steps
    of integration that go beyond the status quo may undermine neither the
    States’ political power of action nor the principle of conferral"
    ~Federal Constitutional Court, Germany. 2009

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Oh, dear! Some people actually believed Cambuffoon! He is only placating the antis in his own party whilst looking towards being re-elected without Clegg in the next election. He believes that he will con the public (again), into voting Tory, by pretending to have an in/out referendum. If we leave, it would spell the end of the Tory party as we would soon join Eastern Europe in the 3rd world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    23.Bastiat - "......The sooner this "experiment" is consigned to the dustbin of history, the better for democracy.........."

    Where is the lack of democracy? We vote MPs, the biggest party/ies form a Govt and make decsisions for us.

    At every stage a willing British, democractically elected Minister has declined to use the British veto in the Council of Ministers & signed us up....

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I want to be able to tick a box for closer union. Who is going to offer me that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    15.Alan Marr
    UKIP say this, citing the former German president's, Roman Herzog's, complaint that 84% of German laws came from Brussels, and that this centralisation of power is "inappropriate". UKIP revised it down to 75% as we didn't join the euro currency.

    Both may be inflating the figure, but you could do worse that to quote the German president.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    #15. Alan Marr
    "It cannot be right that 75% of our laws are made in Europe"
    Your are correct, 75% of our laws are not made in Europe, it's another piece of mis-information(:to put it politely) propagated by the EuroOuts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Put simply, the EU is a sovereignty robbing institution of selfish career bureaucrats and politicians who seek as much control over the peoples of Europe as possible.

    That's why the EU Constitution was rejected, the People realise this.

    The sooner this "experiment" is consigned to the dustbin of history, the better for democracy, nation states and the free peoples of Europe.
    Viva Liberty :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    @Mark Hobbs

    'I hate to think what that will do for England's economic and social health'

    Free of the bloc vote of imbecility that landed us with Brown as chancellor/PM for 13 years I think England will do fine.

    It's Scotland I'd be worried about. If I lived there. Which I don't any more. So I don't care any more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Never closer union!

    I think whether Cameron's idea is a success will depend on whether the "negotiations" work out as planned - I have a feeling they won't, or they would be limited in nature, unless another two or three major member states have similar feelings to the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Any one falling for this is a fool. Its just words and he has broken his promises before. Anyway the Torys wont be in power after the next election and i for one will still vote UKIP.
    I have listened to the radio he has no chance of a re-negotiation just op outs and were already a second class member of the EU anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    His next step is obviously a deal with UKIP in the next election vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Cameron is simply begging to be re-elected.

    He has realised, or has his buddy Osborne, realised that the 4th estate, the media, has absented itself.

    1. People don't vote in quantity any more.
    2. Those that do are not influenced by old style media.
    3. Gideon has sussed that these votes are easy meat.

    What a sad state of affairs we are in when Gideon, of all people, is actually the ring master...

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Cameron is pragmatic. European conversion will happen one day... even a global currency is likely within 30 years. But today, It is a no-brainer for him to focus on short term growth, and debt-reduction.

    Why would he rely on a Global ideology? Truth is: he wouldn't. French politicians will always give a Gallic shrug, because they need to convince their very wary populace that it's the UK's loss.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Cameron is all PR.

    I thought Clegg was the one with the less substance but actually they are both the same. Spineless people who do not even know the meaning of the word LEADERSHIP. The UK needs a leader who will actually adress the problem NOW. In 2015 it will be even worst.

    We need to start doing what The People want. No immigration, stop paying the EU our money. OUT!

    Enouh is Enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    It cannot be right that 75% of our laws are made in Europe we must re-patriat our own law making process. This is what our democracy is about.
    Our great grand parents and grand parents and some of our parents fought for this and some gave their lives


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