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
    +5

    Comment number 265.

    If Cameron tries to wriggle out of a referendum his fate will be sealed !! but agree with other comments a load of fudge and political rubbish . All this nonsense about its good for trade what about immigration , prisons , jobs and the well being of the country all lost due to joining this shambles.

  • rate this
    +22

    Comment number 264.

    It's a question of democracy

    We agreed to join a free trade zone but what we got was a political entity touching all aspects of our social life in particular policing & immigration,

    Whilst the EU has expanded its political power it has not reinforced its democracy or accountability Many believe it is a bureaucratic dictatorship who only aim is greater power & reward.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 263.

    sieuariu @242
    "easily herded"

    Just as in US, herds 'easily driven', comfortable individuals tend to 'go-along', especially as bread-winners, rebelling only when opportunities are plentiful or when common-cause made against monopolisation of opportunity

    When 'belonging' is made a function of 'victory', no surprise barred from those excluded from employment or capitalisation

    Focus on democracy

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 262.

    The only thing that is for sure: the speach will be a waste if time.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 261.

    The only speech I want to hear from Cameron is one that says he will give the electorate an in/out referendum on the EU and it will be held this year.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 260.

    When it looked as though Europe's youth might be joined by Europe';s parents, and in turn by potentially homeless bankers and politicians, to demand employment sanity, we saw Cameron & Osborne panicked into calls for Euro-integration & tax enforcement, the reverse of own 'banking' ambition

    Anything it seems, to head-off calls for Democracy

    Nothing to say on Friday, if not for Equal Partnership

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 259.

    We pay in more than we get out. We have a trade deficit. We have uncontrollable net migration to an already overcrowded island. We have to fund superfluous MEPs and all their jollies.

    As a non-executive worker though I greatly appreciate the working rights which the EU provides. I would happily leave the EU if I believed our own politicians would represent the majority of the UK. I don't.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 258.

    If the EU had been formed from economically stable Northern European Countries - that is any without a Mediterranean, Adriatic or Black Sea coast and had limited its aspirations to providing economic strength, we should not have the mess that is.


    Perhaps it is time to regroup and rebuild?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 257.

    I'm not interested what this Tory Toff has to say, other than giving the British people an in/out referendum of our membership within the corrupt, wasteful & expensive EU.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 256.

    Another Tory having a go at banging the anti everything nationalist drum, yawn! Heard it all before! Imagine being on an island, isolated, and controlled by Tories, no thanks.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 255.

    I suspect many consider the confederate states of the EU a step to far and would be seeking a Common Market plus relationship.

    Hover, in the absence of such an option these people might simply take an 'Out' stance instead.

    The government needs to look at the EU issue carefully and consider an alternative to the straight 'In /Out' vote.

    More importantly the EU would needs to recognise this.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 254.

    It is true that a future outside Europe will make Britain irrelevant in the world. But the UK has already sidelined itself by opting out of the Euro, Schengen and other treaties. It would be foolish to think that, by keeping things as they are, the UK would retain any relevance at the world stage. For better or for worse, Britain has given up its influence years ago.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 253.

    Sieuarlu 244.

    We don't have bloody revolutions in this country anymore, its a 'been there got the T-shirt' thing. We vote warmongers out hence why Blair and the Labour party are no longer in power. As for forcefully removing the monarchy why, they're not running the country? How about you wander off to the middle east find out what a bloody revolution is like, then re-evaluate?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 252.

    The last time we left europe to its own devices it ended in war. We need to be in the EU to influence its decisions to make sure it is accountable & democratic and that it does serve the people it represents. You can be sure of one thing if we aren't in it then we wont get a say and it may very well turn into what its critics already say it is or worse.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 251.

    VAT Man (Cameron) is a very dangerous person indeed. I believe when he says he wants powers back from Brussels, what he really means is he wants the power to push people around and bully them, even more than he is doing now, without interference from other countries.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 250.

    Europe is changing because Germany want a tighter political landscape, they're trying their old tricks through a different door! I for one do not want anything to do with Europe. the nay sayers who whine about that being a disaster for Britain are the usual talking heads. Those that run businesses and industry will have no problem carrying on as before. Its all about the gravy train for the few.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 249.

    Most Europhobes and Euroseptics vociferous advocates for our exit from Europe are mainly casino banker community vultures who brought down ours and Europes' economies to their knees. This bunch ought to be isoloted from British politics PERIOD.

    Prime Minister should push ahead building bridges with German and France. And this is good for the country.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 248.

    Britain joined the common market not the "Euro State".

    UKIP coalition with Labour if Cameron keeps this shambles up until 2015

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 247.

    Telling that after, what, 40 years the British people still have no idea of the impications of staying or leaving.
    It's we who are a political football.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 246.

    EuPrisoner: So people in Europe are suffering because of the fantasies of extremists

    When it comes down to it
    its all about the Euro

    If the economies had never been linked with one currency
    then there would be no Eurocrisis

    Symbolic of Britain's independence is its currency the Pound

    Along with questioning the limits of integration
    Does Britain want to keep the Pound or replace it with Euro?

 

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