Thursday

22nd Feb 2018

Opinion

It’s like the night before Christmas

  • Cameron to deliver key-speech on Europe in frozen Amsterdam (Photo: Joost van der Post)

It feels a little like Christmas with all the feverish expectations and speculations, hopes and requests: On Friday (18 January) David Cameron, the UK’s Prime Minister, is finally going to make his speech about Europe or, to be quite precise, what he perceives as Britain’s future inside or outside the European Union.

Perhaps, I had better qualify that again. Mr Cameron has already made it clear that he cannot envisage Britain’s future outside the European Union though he does not want the country to enter the eurozone or not in the foreseeable future. So he has already cut off one possible line of argument and policy-making.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Advice has been pouring in from all directions as have various threats and warnings.

German and American politicians have warned Mr Cameron that he must not take Britain out of the EU, something that he has no intention of doing and could not, in any case, simply announce in a speech tomorrow. British politicians from all three main parties are warning him that a referendum in itself would be a bad idea because it might take Britain out of the EU (not a given by any means) or because its very promise would introduce a period of uncertainty that would be bad for business or bad for political life. These politicians do not seem averse to referendums on other subjects such as Scotland’s independence from the UK and most of them have now started to say that powers need to be reclaimed from the European Union.

Some business leaders as well as that representative of very big business, the CBI have echoed the warnings about both a possible exit and even a referendum. Others, as City AM and the Daily Mail have pointed out, think that it would be an excellent idea to call an IN/OUT referendum though the time-scale is not clearly defined. These business leaders think that the full membership as it exists now is not in Britain's interests and ought to be changed.

The Conservative Party, predictably, has come up with many options, depending on the speaker of the moment. Some of the older confirmed supporters of the EU like Kenneth Clarke, Minister without Portfolio, and Lord Heseltine, unabashed by the fact that they proved to be wrong about the euro, have been vociferous in their demands that David Cameron make his intention always to stay in the EU absolutely clear and, just in case, should avoid any referendums.

At the other end of the spectrum we have the slightly muddled articles written by Daniel Hannan MEP who has conjured up a Churchill-like image for Cameron and has suggested that, if needs be, a complete break should be announced. But only if needs be as Mr Hannan is convinced the Mr Cameron will achieve repatriation of powers by the simple threat of an IN/OUT referendum.

Somewhere between those two we find the Fresh Start Group that has, with the help of Open Europe, produced a manifesto full of suggestions for reforming the EU and creating a different membership status for the UK without exiting or even threatening to exit.

It is safe to say that David Cameron will not be able to satisfy all these different groups, let alone the various strands of public opinion. It is, however, also safe to say that he will probably dissatisfy all of them and leave a feeling of confusion as to what he is really intending to do.

The probability is that he will promise a referendum though whether he will be able to give details now is questionable. Any referendum will be called after the next election and that, in itself, introduces a note of uncertainty: will the Conservatives win it and if they do not, will the Labour Party find itself forced into a similar promise?

Not only is it sensible to wait on the next treaty, if it happens (and there are signs that there is no appetite for that among EU politicians), but at present there would be no majority for a referendum in the House of Commons so a Bill would fall.

So a probable referendum around 2016 or 2017, especially if there is a new treaty by then, though, having whipped up expectations, the Prime Minister will probably have to promise one even without a new treaty. What will the question be? It is unlikely that the speech will be absolutely clear on that, as so many things will happen by then but it is very likely that the IN option will be qualified in some way with references to a reform or repatriation of powers. It is even possible that the referendum will be a tripartite one: IN, OUT or REFORM, however the last of these may be defined.

In the meantime, David Cameron will have to return to his promise to repatriate powers, something that has not been done so far though it was part of the Conservative Manifesto in 2010. All the talk of repatriating Justice and Home Affairs powers has led to nothing despite the misconception produced by some journalists that the UK is no longer a member of the European Arrest Warrant. To the contrary, some of the block opt-outs negotiated by the previous government have been reversed and the Home Secretary has agreed to a number of opt-ins, which have not been much publicized, possibly because the details are a little hard to grasp.

If David Cameron merely repeats his supposed intention "to losen Britain's ties with Europe" or, in other words, renegotiate in some undefined fashion the terms of the membership he will lay himself open to demands for an explanation of how he intends to do this and for some action immediately.

The same applies to repeated promises of repatriation of powers. His great hope will be that the mere sentiments together with a clearly promised referendum will satisfy a sufficient number of people for the subject to disappear temporarily from the political discourse. There seems little chance of that.

Helen Szamuely is a writer and researcher on political affairs, based in London

Analysis

We are not (yet) one people

Talks on the next EU budget will start on Friday. Brussels wants to do much more than before – and needs a lot more money. But arguing about funds won't be enough.

Intellectual property protection - the cure for Europe's ills

The European Commission is considering rolling back medical research incentives, on the faulty assumption they are somehow driving higher drug prices. But not only is that premise flawed – the proposed fix will do nothing to benefit ordinary health consumers.

News in Brief

  1. EU migration to UK at lowest since 2012
  2. MEP Andrieu will chair parliament pesticide committee
  3. Juncker's right-hand man warns of 'institutional blockage'
  4. Greek parliament to open probe on PMs and EU commissioner
  5. May gathers Brexit ministers to hammer out UK position
  6. Tajani asks Juncker for all EMA Brexit relocation documents
  7. Hahn: EU to back entry talks with Albania and Macedonia
  8. UEFA signs deal to promote 'European values' at EURO 2020

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUMovie Premiere: 'Up to The Last Drop' - 22 February, Brussels
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. Poland and Greece broke EU environment laws, rules court
  2. Dutch MPs vote on ending 'Ukraine-type' referendums
  3. Corruption report: Hungary gets worse, Italy makes progress
  4. UK seeks flexible transition length after Brexit
  5. Commission defence of Barroso meeting leaves 'discrepancies'
  6. MEPs bar WMD and killer robots from new EU arms fund
  7. Canete gets EU parliament pension while still commissioner
  8. Bank of Latvia sends deputy to ECB amid bribery probe

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformBeyond the Errors in the War on Terror: How to Fight Global Militarism - 22 February
  2. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  3. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  4. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  5. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  6. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  7. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  9. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  11. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  12. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission