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".

Related Stories

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

On board with the US air crews fighting Islamic State

During four days on board the US carrier taking part in the fight against Islamic State, progress appears to be slow and steady.

Read full article

More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I cant believe that Cameron hasn't courted like minded opinions within the EU before he gave his speech. I also can't believe that he's a lone voice in the wilderness. Seventeen countries in the Eurozone need ever closer union because they're in the Euro. The ten outside don't and some may align themselves alongside Cameron believing we've had enough beaurocracy from Brussels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    52.Bort1980 - "The Greeks didn't vote for the majority of the EU leadership, and it is them that is handing down the orders, not somuch the Greek leadership."

    The current Grek Govt parties went into the election saying "here's what the other EZ countries have demanded, we will follow it".....

    ...ergo the Greek people KNEW EACTLY what they were signing up to - and sign up to it they did

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.


    The Greeks didn't vote for the majority of the EU leadership, and it is them that is handing down the orders, not somuch the Greek leadership.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Perhaps the key issue is that it is unlikely that Cameron will be elected Prime Minister. He wasn't last time and with Wrecker Osbourne's next budget is even less likely to get a majority.

    In that case all he is doing is condemning the UK to a long period of uncertainty.

    The referendum should be held now. Then the UK government would have real bargaining power with a public mandate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    "Why is Cameron's Europe speech so significant?"


    You're telling us it is, BBC. I'm not convinced.

    Certainly, no one on the mainland will have found the least surprise in anything he said.

    However, his purporting to speak for everyone in the UK was pretty nauseating, and a significant upping of anti-democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Britain has to decide we stay in the EU and join the euro or we pull out of the EU that decision will be made sooner or later; better sooner trying to be half in and half out has never worked and never will

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    43.Mutley - "Closer integration without democratic representation leads to civil unrest at the very least. Greece is a current example........"

    By what warped definition of democracy do you come up with that steaming pile of proverbial?

    The Greek people VOTED FOR the current Govt. in a DEMOCRATIC election.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Even if(a big if) Cameron gets his 'new relationship' with the EU his EuroOuts and UKIP won't be happy.
    They will cite the fact that the UK will be outside the room (because of Slick Dave's opt outs) when decisions are taken. Decisions which will affect the UK.
    Thee are other EU members who want a more flexible EU but the EuroOuts and UKIP won't allow Cameron the latitude to build alliances..

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    The fact is that having spent 13 years in Opposition the Tories are still behaving that way, and this craven PM is dancing to their tune. They still think they are just merely registering their protest in a harmless manner, they still can't get used to the fact they are actually in Office (though not in power), and are doing immense damage to the UK's standing!

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    If there are to be opt-outs, there should be well-documented, analyzed rational for doing so, clearly pointing to the benefits for the country-of-opting-out.
    Where is this rationale for UK? What is the rationale for repatriation of powers except of course the almighty voice of the London Financial District? Have the banks not run UK long enough? Is it not time for the commonfolk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Manifestos say one thing but new ministries have to adapt to social/economic development. No point offering a referendum to the UK whilst Scotland are still deliberating their own independence (2014). Nor, until the Euro zone crisis, which continued to spiral after the last election, has truly stabilised.

    How about allowing the referendum only to those who bother to vote in a general election?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Closer integration without democratic representation leads to civil unrest at the very least. Greece is a current example.
    Quite right we should see what people want in a referendum. Trouble is is we say no we will be made to vote again, France and Ireland spring to mind....

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    To me this is an argument between business and the State not between Britain and the rest of the EU. France's invitation to British businesses is a joke - personal/business wealth is leaving France for the exact same reasons Cameron is asking for a referendum.
    EU must deregulate, reduce bureaucracy/Govt and reduce taxes if Europe is to compete for business in a new world order.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    I think Mr Cameron must think we were born yesterday , his speech has so many IF's that you would think he is an ex software developer.
    Most can see now that UKIP is the only option , you get what you see.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    It is interesting that the words 'extreme' left and 'extreme' right are used by Europhiles to dismiss the legitimacy of a different view point to their own centralising objective. This type of language is used because the political arguments for centralising do not carry popular opinion, so there is a need to turn those against such 'progress' into fascists, or hard left commies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    If democracy is destroyed in Britain it will be [Parliament] which threw it away. The rights that are entrusted to us are not for us to give away. Even if I agree with everything that is proposed, I cannot hand away powers lent to me for five years by the people of Chesterfield. I just could not do it. It would be theft of public rights.

    - Tony Benn (1991)

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    This is a clever move by David Cameron. Europe has been unwilling to move an inch for Britain, so David has got his coat and said unless you give me enough that I support and can promote to the British People, we are leaving.
    I pity the Germans who will be the sole net contributers to Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

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

    That's easy - move to France

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.


    "...lots of Dave's MP chums are 'gentleman' farmers. Er....what do they do?..."


    Thanks to EU subsidies, being paid to do nothing etc., selling off land to adjoining residential owners at vastly inflated prices as speculative building land, the answer is "not a lot if they don't feel like it".

    Plenty of the farmers near me don't even bother to mow hay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Always fascinated by the hypocrisy of right-wingnuts. For example, the NFU's deafening silnece on this issue is very telling; they hate foreigners and respecting the environment but love the cheap labour and the massive subsidies enabled by the EU. And of course lots of Dave's MP chums are 'gentleman' farmers. Er....what do they do?


Page 1 of 3



  • Kim Jong-ilKorean kidnap

    The film stars abducted by North Korea and forced to make movies

  • TabletFeeling flat

    Are tablets losing their appeal?

  • scarlett Johansson7 days quiz

    Did someone try to impersonate Scarlett on the red carpet?

  • Woman reading on subwayCover shots Watch

    The disappearing books of the New York city subway

  • llamasLlama drama

    Two unlikely fugitives go on the run in Arizona

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.