Together with a group of British conservatives I watched David Cameron’s speech in a small room in the European Parliament, something that always brings up a bit of a ‘Dunkirk-feeling’. In the big meeting rooms it is usually yelled that Cameron isolates himself that he is anti European and lives in a fantasy world. Yet he answered with a speech which will determine the European agenda for the next couple of years. The Brits aim for a new arrangement with the EU while the euro zone is going through further integration. At the end of that process the British citizens may decide in a referendum: yes or no. Citizens truly have a say in it! Try explaining that in the main buildings of the EU.
The speech Cameron delivered was not only for British, but also European consumption. “People are increasingly frustrated that European decisions taken further and further away mean their living standards are slashed. We are starting to see this in the demonstrations on the streets of Athens, Madrid and Rome. We are seeing it in the parliaments of Berlin, Helsinki and The Hague. At the same time, Europe is locked in a downward spiral. Europe represents 7 percent of the world population, but the European share in the world economy will decrease by a third in the next decades, while Europe makes 50 percent of all social welfare spending in the world". Cameron is asking the ‘difficult questions’ Europe likes to circumvent.
Those who want an answer to these crucial questions in the EU, get as a response: We need more Europe. Cameron: “The biggest danger to the European Union comes not from those who advocate change, but from those who denounce new thinking as heresy. In its long history Europe has experience of heretics who turned out to have a point. More of the same will not bring the European Union any closer to its citizens. More of the same will just produce more of the same: less competitiveness, less growth, fewer jobs”. He favours a more flexible Europe, because it answers better to European diversity. By the way, the Euro zone already includes 17 of the Member States, 10 do not participate. Schengen has 26 countries, 4 of them outside the EU, while 2 within the EU do not participate. When it comes to military intervention, such as in Libya, the British and the French have to do the dirty work, while for instance Germany stays out. The European federalist slogan of an ever closer Union is therefore a myth.
Cameron uses this reality as an opening for negotiations. The Euro zone, of which the UK is not a member, integrates further, while London is negotiating a new relationship with the EU. The European Treaties need to be opened up anyway. Just the rescuing of the Euro made the EU violate all articles on the Euro. The British ‘new relation’ is a bit of an overstatement, seeing how the UK is already outside of many Treaty frameworks. Which competences does it want back then? I guess social policy, labour law, culture, police and justice. What remains is an ‘internal market plus’. The British people will be able to judge on this relationship with a yes or a no, provided that they re-elect Cameron in 2015. Will they vote with their heart or their mind? That is the core question in the Battle for Britain.
What is going to happen next? Brussels will respond with a rejection front. Yet the quiet allies of the UK - The Netherlands, Scandinavian countries, Baltic States and the Czech Republic - will feel that there has to be a dialogue because Cameron has a point.
Some countries might have their own wishes regarding European policy areas which, as it is called in Brussels, are dysfunctional. In the end also Germany wants to keep the Brits on board, forcing the French to the negotiation table. A European Union without the UK is an amputated entity, while a UK without free access to the European market is condemning itself to economical self mutilation. The Little Englanders - presided by UKIP leader Nigel Farage - who think that the Commonwealth can be an alternative for a European market live in a dream world of fish and chips.
European leaders should be grateful to Cameron. He has the courage to ask difficult questions and he outlines a course aimed at keeping the UK in the EU. How is that anti European?