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

    Comment number 205.

    And the plain and simple fact, that even if you were pro-EU to begin with and allowed the Govt. of the time 'a little leeway' on the old accountability rules, the way the EU stands ATM, with a potential Federal Union and Euro membership soon to be compulsory, the Choice has made itself. Dress up as many politicians and doomsayers as you like...The GBP WILL have its SAY. Ain't Democracy FUN!....

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    I loathe Cameron almost as much as Thatcher - they have both helped to destroy this country - BUT I voted for the EU because I thought it was a trading agreement NOT the EU dictating how we run our lives. As a small business the EU has made our lives impossible and therefore we would vote to leave the EU except as a trading partner. We do not want the health and safety gestapo dictating our lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    EU is governing our laws, as it is NOW we are only one court case away from having the Monarchy removed from power of law making/ head of state and Sovereign rule. If this is happens, the currency of Sterling will be instantly worthless and every person, company & business & the Government will be instantly bankrupt & we will have to join the Euro, We need to have our own law making, not EU laws.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    It's funny how so many people are demanding an EU exit referendum, yet have also been denouncing a UK exit referendum for Scotland for years now.

    Why doesn't every part of the UK get a membership referendum every 10 years? Why can't my family have a referendum for our property to secede from the UK and govern our own affairs?

    We don't need a referendum. If you want out, vote UKIP. If not, don't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    It's odd, but for a political union (being that is what its become) claiming to act on behalf of democracy, 90% of the population of have never been asked if it's a political union they want. Europeans have been led down a cul-de-sac, with no way out. If David wants to keep his job, let democracy for once guide us where we need to be. The EU needs Britain's trade regardless of what happens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    One thing PM David Cameron might ask whilst over there is why Germany is Repatriating some Gold from the USA and France?

    Maybe the Cold war is over?

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    #131 dmr

    "QOT, Prince Charles like every UK citizen has the right to charge for use of his land."

    apart from questioning whose land it is -- the problem is also not paying taxes. PC has volunteered to pay taxes --unlike others.

    -No inheritance tax is paid unless property is sold --then the National Trust takes over --no taxes.

    They are not ´UK citizens´ as you think- the EU will alter that

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Still Peddling your pro-EU Scare Tactics eh Trout?.How does that work?..well, we're not in the EU...EU charge UK for access to EU market-UK will pay..UK charges EU for access to it's market..TOTAL VALUE...UK WINS...Oh, and as for 'investment' and 'business sentiement'..if you were THAT good at DICTATING IT, you'd do something about them NOW! and not then...You DON'T dictate, not in my House LOVE.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    196. RTFishall Did I miss something?

    Not really it was a political sleight of hand,by politicians.

    Who only have two faults.Every thing they say & every thing they do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    I'm 67 and have voted since I was able. However, whilst I voted for the UK to join the Common Market in the 1970's, I don't' ever remember voting for EU membership. Also, I don't ever remember voting for a multicultural Britain either. Did I miss something?

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    What do I care about more my Pension or EU membership?
    In both cases there's no clear indication of what the Government is going to do.
    It's like watching five year olds play football when an Ice Cream Van pulls up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    The sooner we get rid of the corrupt gang in charge at Westminster in favour of a properly democratically elected government of, by and for the citizens of Great Britain, the better.
    If that government is based in Europe, then so be it, for I want no more of the FPTP fiddle, of toff "career politicians" who have no idea what its like out here, And of their hypocrisy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    UKIP are a dangerous bunch of right wing nut jobs they want a zero tax economy no welfare no pensions no tax credits no NHS no employment law no human rights and finally no membership of the EU funny they take the money hundreds of thousands of pounds in wages and expenses from the EU parliament dangerous hypocrites

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Oh come off it !
    It will all be spun, smoke and mirrors and no matter what he says..his speech will be heralded as the veritable second coming.
    It will be designed to act as a game changer to show a clear difference between the Tories and Labour of which the Tories will claim the Patriotic highground..Yes they are going for the Nationalist, jingoistic approach to lure the working class vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Leaving the EU would NOT mean cutting off all ties with Europe. Britain would still trade with them, they would still trade with Britain. What leaving would mean is that Britain would not have to prop up incompetent governments or fund corrupt, inefficient, unelected bureaucrats. The saving to the UK taxpayer would be around £50million a day

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Its strange don't you think how each side of an argument is defined by who supports it?

    The beeb put great stead in the pronunciations of pro Europeans of all shades, they even give credence to America when it suits! No mention of the U.S. Asking our government not to make any further defence cuts however!

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    An in/out referendum is my best case scenario, but that won't happen.

    If terms are to be renegotiated, something must be done on immigration, as current levels are unsustainable, and are set to get worse.

    Also Human Rights diktats foisted upon us, which invariably protect criminals, need to be robustly scrutinised.

    In short, can someone please stand up for the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    I will happily vote for a deal which puts our Parliament back in charge of more of our law. I accept that membership of a trade body will necessarily involve passing some legislation that supports the trade body though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    I don't trust UKIP. They lie about 75% of our laws being from the EU (It's 8-10 % and they always say that we haven't voted for the "Unelected" EU parliament whilst they conveniently ignore those elections we have for our EU representatives every five years. Mind you, I trust the Tories even less.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    The Germans want Britain in the EU. That is not in doubt. They see the UK as an ally

    Of course they do! They value the UK contribution to the EU budget too highly. Imagine if Germany had to actually try to fund its expansionist empire all on its own...


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