Cameron's hardest speech

 

Europe: Conservative group demands return of powers to UK

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On Friday, David Cameron will make one of the most difficult speeches of his premiership.

He and his advisers have been working on it for months. Delivery dates have come and gone. In trying to set out how he sees Britain's place in a changing Europe, he will inevitably disappoint.

Some will question why a vote cannot be held this side of an election. Others will accuse of him of leaving Britain's future in Europe open to question - and that could unsettle potential investors in the UK. Some will say that Britain faces years of argument and debate before the issue is settled.

What is undeniable is that Europe is changing profoundly. Not by choice but by necessity. If the eurozone is to survive there will have to be much tighter integration. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken of moving towards a political union.

That, in itself, is one reason why this will be a slow-burning debate. Nothing will happen quickly. The government believes there is no point in consulting the British people until it is clear how Europe will develop. And that could take years.

Natural allies

The prime minister's plan depends on him being re-elected in 2015. It then depends on events in Europe. Sometime after the German election in September, Chancellor Merkel has indicated she may push for a change to the treaties in order to correct some of the basic flaws in the euro.

A treaty change will enable Mr Cameron to demand something in return for British agreement. Treaty change is rarely swift, however. Negotiations over the Lisbon Treaty lasted eight years. It would not take so long with a treaty change - but we could be talking about 2018 or later before the British people have their say.

The negotiations will be complex. There is little appetite in Europe for making major concessions to the UK. I am in Germany at the moment. The Germans want Britain in the EU. That is not in doubt. They see the UK as an ally over free trade and open markets.

They also see Britain as a counter- balance to France and the southern European countries. German support will not come at any price, however. Angela Merkel believes her legacy is tied to saving the euro, and will not allow Britain to put obstacles in the way.

The Germans would prefer to avoid any debate about opt-outs and returning powers to Westminster. What Berlin is prepared to do is to join London in reducing regulation and revisiting what can best be left to a national parliaments rather than decided at a European level.

This is where David Cameron would have little room for manoeuvre. Many in the Conservative party would not be satisfied with just less regulation. They want opt-outs from policing and criminal justice and some employment laws. (David Cameron is unlikely to present a shopping list of demands on Friday.)

A review on what "competences" would be up for negotiation will not be completed until 2014.

New deal

Many Conservative back-benchers will only settle for powers being repatriated. Some in the government believe that the very word "repatriate" puts up backs in Europe. The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has suggested a "rebalancing" of powers. Potentially, the UK has a lot of allies when it discusses what can best be done at a national level, or what can make Europe work better and be less intrusive or bureaucratic. But "repatriating" powers will involve a fight with countries like France.

Joaquin Almunia, an EU Commissioner, says that renegotiating terms of membership would be "extremely difficult".

The government will also have to manage expectations. There will be no point in consulting the British people if there is just a change, say, to the working time directive. The whole exercise will not have been worth the effort. In order to justify seeking the consent of the British people, there will have to be a new deal, with the relationship with Europe put on a new footing.

The prime minister has spoken of voters being given a "real choice". That may not, of course, be through a referendum.

If there is a referendum - whatever the question - it will be regarded as an "in-or-out" vote, and there are many senior people in Europe who would want it that way. Among some leaders, there is a real desire to end the uncertainty with Britain once and for all.

So if there is to be a "fresh settlement" of Britain's role in Europe, it will not come quickly or easily.

 
Gavin Hewitt, Europe editor Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 25.

    Imagine if there was a referendum and we withdrew from The EU?
    There would be a run on the Pound and the stock market would crash. Of course the EU would not have to help.
    Manufacturers would not invest in a country next to but not in The EU with no access to the single market.
    Britain would soon be begging to rejoin, humiliating itself to the world.
    Grow up Mr Cameron, UKIP, EUphobes/ sceptics.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 24.

    Will Mr Cameron stop saying that the British people need their say and are not happy with The EU in its present form.
    I am very happy with the EU. It has changed Britain from being 'the sick man of Europe' to one of the richest EU countries.
    All the treaties including The Lisbon Treaty have been negotiated and signed by Britain. We have shaped The EU along with the other members.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 23.

    The UK and the EU this question make me sick it is about time we understand the EU is a club and as club is duty is to work for the good of the club and not any individual member.
    The UK have a choice to be member of the club and work to make the club the best in the world or get out and let the rest do the work to reach the final aim one EU state.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 22.

    This is all 'pie-in-the-sky'. The British Government signed the Lisbon Treaty and it is not going to re-opened, that's for sure. It would need all 27 members to agree to do so and that just isn't going to happen.

    Britain can leave the EU politically but not economically or socially.

    How about making the most of what you've got. Play the game and stop wining about the rules.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 21.

    @19

    When the idiot child becomes a nuisance in the class he is removed so his behaviour is contained and does not begin to affect others. for too long the UK has been a disruptive influence to the entire union, the should either calm down or leave and return when they are more in line with everyone else.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 20.

    His master's voice.
    Stentorian.

    Yeah. Right......

    Phutttt


    Scuttle off back posh boy.
    But to where exactly?

    Nobody wants him......

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 19.

    A referendum wont change anything, because the British public are so badly educated and use the tabloids as their go to source for EU information. Most of them cannot tell you why and how the EU has evolved and what it aims to achieve, so how the hell is a referendum going to change anything.

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 18.

    Oh dear, oh dear... so it has come to this.

    All this yammering about gravy, and still the two REAL reasons for this hilarity are not named: wounded pride over the pound, and immigration.

    But by all means, leave the EU. Nothing (well, okay, some things... but few) will be funnier than watching Chav Nation try to convince its pimply populace to pick their fruit.

    Nananana Nananana He-e-ey Goodbye!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 17.

    UK Parliament has had the power to to grant it's people an in/out referendum since back when they first joined the European project, so any perceived servitude has in fact been voluntarily entered and sustained by the consent of the reps returned by the UK electorate. Any and all bile should be turned away from the organization you want to leave and pointed at those that are keeping your there.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 16.

    So it looks as if British people will get a say with a vote on Europe, at last.

    Something that could never have happened under Bliar.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 15.

    What on Earth has Cameron been doing writing a speech for months! It will disappoint everyone and it is a speech that is not necessary for dealing with the EU dilemma. The trouble is he has created expectations in the 'Out of EU' wing of the Tory party - they are now on heat. The Lib Dems are pathetic poodles, surely they wont give in to any move away from membership - renegotiation is a euphemism

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 14.

    Christine Lagarde of the IMF has recently been painting a rosy scenario for Europe and Greece in particular for 2013.Manuel Barroso has never come to grips with reality. This at a time when Greece has surpassed Spain in unemployment and its economy continues to shrink. You have to wonder if these politicians actually believe their own words themselves.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 13.

    What Germany wants is for the UK to put all of its own money on the line with Germany's to save the fatally flawed idiocally conceived Euro.Will Cameron in the end go along with that? How do you spell SELLOUT? If it weren't so, Britain would have had its referendum he teased it with already.There's too much pork pie for politicians to let the UK leave the EU.He's already disappointed many.

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 12.

    Such a fundamental change to "Europe" as will be required to keep the Euro together surely MUST be properly discussed and agreed to by all Nations - I firmly believe that not only the UK people will have some trouble accepting Merkel's dream if actually allowed to discuss and vote on it properly.

  • rate this
    -13

    Comment number 11.

    The move form economic community to common market was first tabled by a certain M Thatcher & she got her wish....

    ....far from weilding the UK veto she positively voted in favour....

    ...including for the social rules demanded by other nations.....

    ....because she understood how business works, unlike today's Xenophobic little Englanders.....

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 10.

    The consequences of the last referendum, where we ended up far from what was actually voted for may dissuade many from a yes vote. They will not want a green light for Brussels to drive through a further hidden agenda. Not because of UK Xenophobia but because of Brussels relentless power grabbing,fiscal incompetence and contempt for democracy. Cameron cannot paper over this and win an election.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 9.

    "If there is a referendum - whatever the question - it will be regarded as an "in-or-out" vote"

    Well, it's to be hoped for that the question is actually an in-or-out one. Comedies mostly end up at the fifth act, and this one has already dragged on to the fifteenth, and is no longer funny.

  • rate this
    +19

    Comment number 8.

    Is Gavin being obtuse?

    Whether "Germans want the UK to be in the EU." is completely irrelevant.

    The issue, right, is that Germany and France want to remove the voting populace from the arm of government that levies taxes and decides spending policy. The UK can't do that, because it goes against 400 years of taxation with representation, and the party can't sneak it through.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 7.

    The right-wing (ie 30% of Tory MPs, UKIP, and many in the media) share a Republican agenda (as detailed in UKIP’s policy statement).

    Freed from regulation and standards, they dream of a lean and aggressively competitive UK with low taxes, no National Insurance and a dismantled NHS.

    In moving towards their vision, Cameron will indeed find that such a New Britain has no place in the EU.

  • rate this
    +30

    Comment number 6.

    Europe is moving away from Britain not Britain moving away from Europe. The EU will become a federal superstate and this is not the EU that Britain signed up to or wants to be part of. For the Euro to survive, this has to happen. Unfortunately people like me, pro EU (as it was ) but not wanting to be part of a federation are left in a difficult place. Much more info and discussion needed!

 

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