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 Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    "What is undeniable is that Europe is changing profoundly. Not by choice but by necessity"

    Wrong! The "necessity" is not the reason but the excuse. Greece could and should have left the Euro but that woiuld not suit those who want a Greater European Reich. So people in Europe are suffering because of the fantasies of extremists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    217"You want change?REAL change?
    Then you've got to vote for it"

    No, you have to fight for it.Freedom is bought and paid for with blood.But first you have to recognize that you aren't free until government must be your servant, not your master. The first thing to do is overthrow the monarchy by force.Then you need a real constitution like America's.Won't happen in Britain, a nation of sheep.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    I can see no problem once he has the music sheet...

    In Out, In Out, and shake it all about
    We do the Okey Dokey
    you lot scream and shout
    In Out In Out
    We grab any cash about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    Among revolts against absolute rule we have the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Arab Spring.There's more unrest over government corruption in Pakistan than in the UK.Brits have no spine to stand up to their government which is why they will never be free, never have real democracy.A nation of sheep they're easily herded, easily cowed.What a pathetic lot.Weak as water.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    The euro ought to have brought stability - however the expectation that the discipline of the euro would stop the non-payment of taxes by the rich in southern europe, and would also enforce discipline into lazy governments did not happen, the bankers funded borrowing, and some even fiddled greece's books for them. Goldman Sachs, we mean you

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    12 years ago when Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz among many others criticised the Euro plan Brussels wasn't having it. The Euro would bring stability. Now we need "political union" in order to correct " basic flaws" if the eurozone is "to survive". You would almost think they did it on purpose.
    Who cares if the € survives?
    We don't need it.
    Brussels is changing the rules and using blackmail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    227. margaret howard

    [UKIP] is a party that is without a single seat in the UK parliament with 3% of the vote.

    Well they've got my vote next election as they're the only chance of getting a referendum. I wouldn't normally vote on a single issue, but this is important! I'm obviously not alone in this as opinion polls show a large increase in their support as well. Let us have our say!

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    Gavin Hewitt: "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."

    Not so: she believes her legacy is the domination of Europe by Germany. Haven't we been here before? The 'obstacles' worked then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    #231 penguin

    "employees of what?"

    -- What remains -- coffee, sandwich shops and take-outs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    All Cameron knows is spin and there comes a time when it won't wash.He can't treat the EU like plebs and act as if born to rule just because he went to Eton.No wonder he is panicking.Just how many more empty threats and promises can he make ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    I read someone the other day arguing for a referendum because "We smashed them in WW2!". I don't think it's a good idea to have a referendum as we know how that dumb attitude will be preyed upon by certain media outlets. We have a general election every 5 years, if pulling out of Europe is a priority for some people then vote for a Party that supports it. You'd be insane, but there is your choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    The unusual thing about this topic is Gavin, the anti-EU´s and the pro-EU´s can all agree --

    --the anti´s will get screwed.

    -- Total agreement from all sides !

    --the EU can unite peoples.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    Even this Scottish Referendum is giving Westminster kittens, never mind a vote on the EU

    Anyone who honestly believes that the British people will be given any democratic choice concerning Europe and the EU has the mindset of a child

    "You'll get that sweetie tomorrow after school.
    Now go to bed children"

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    "There's not going to be a referendum. Okay?
    Labour offered one. Didn't happen.
    Conservatives gave cast iron guarantee of one. Didn't happen.
    Lib Dems campaigned as the only party to be offering one. Never put it in their manifesto
    European and then World Government IS inevitable. You are slaves to the elite; they don't care what you think or want and neither does Cameron
    They are ALL Liars!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    --at least the EU could protect them as employees --

    employees of what?

    Most of Europe in bankrupt
    Most "workers" are doing silly jobs for the government, not creating wealth
    Spain has an official unemployment rate of 25%, so god only knows what the real situation is like

    Even the UK with 3 million unemployed has 8-10 million "economically inactive" people

    Workers rights???


  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    #229 PeterJ

    " if it's bad for us it's would be a hell of a lot worse for Germany and co because they wouldn't have our $75m a day."

    -- Don´t bet on it !

    -- How much would you pay to be ´Migraine free`?

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    The cards are with the UK, if the UK left there would be a net $15bn funding gap, the others couldn't cover it and the EU would be in financial trouble. We are not talking about Estonia leaving, we are talking about the UK, if it's bad for us it's would be a hell of a lot worse for Germany and co because they wouldn't have our $75m a day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    #227 MH

    "and banish ukip to the outer darkness"

    -- I suppose because Australia is filled with the banished -- He feels there are few empty places remaining who would take them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    209 John

    "Exterminate your far right and banish ukip to the outer darkness"

    I think it's best to leave them do it on their own. This is a party that is without a single seat in the UK parliament with 3% of the vote - in fact the Monster Raving Loony Party got more at the last election.
    UKIP is a joke and the latest rumour is that Nadine Norries wants to join them. Says it all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    #223 Map

    "Student bar closed then?"

    -- No, -- my false teeth fell out at your ridiculous statements.

    -- and my wife´s chattered in the glass in sympathy.


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