[Author’s note: I originally intended my first post of 2013 to be about a different subject(s), but I will post it later and will keep you updated. However due to the relevance of a current event I decided to write a blog about it right away.]
On Tuesday January 22nd 2013 David Cameron, the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was suposed to deliver his speech about the future of the EU-UK relationship in the Hague in the Netherlands.
Now, however, it will be held in London the next day on Wednesday January 23rd. Too bad, I argue. The symbolic value of the speech would have been greater was it held in an original founding member of the European project. I think the Netherlands would have been ideal.
This speech follows in the tradition of many previous speeches by British Prime Ministers on the future of UK’s relationship with Europe. It started with Winston Churchill in 1946.
This speech also comes during a critical period. The European Union is going through a major (but not existential) crisis. The single currency, the Euro, faces big challenges too and is shaking the world economy.
The UK, these days might lose its credit rating. Nobody is without trubles.
Last year the UK vetoed a proposed EU treaty and up to this day the UK is really in the EU with just one foot. Not a member of the single currency nor a member of the Schengen Area. There are other aspects of the EU integration that the UK wanted to opt out of, such as the justice and home affairs.
Britain has always stood on the sidelines of the European continent, saving it a few times along with America from itself (World War I and II). A weird country in Europe that is closer to America with language and law.
On the other hand however, it is closely tied with Europe too. All the nations throughout history that formed the history of Britain came from the European mainland: the Celts, the Romans, the Angles, the Saxons or the Normans.
Today, as I am writing this blog another important EU milestone took place. Germany and France have marked the 50th anniversary of their mutual relationship treaty. This relationship is now the corner-stone of the European Partnership. This treaty started the Franco-German cooperation and ended the Franco-German conflicts that caused both world wars.
Wow! Could Cameron’s timing be any better? If he had chose as the venue, Strasbourg, it would have peaked with symbolism.
I think there are two ways to explain this: either David Cameron did not wish to overshadow this historic moment for the EU and so he chose London instead of mainland Europe or his speech is not going to be that ground-breaking.
I think it is the latter. I do not expect a ground-breaking speech.
If it was really to change his UK’s stance towards the EU in a ground-breaking way he would have made sure to pick a European venue instead of London.
So, my expectation is that he will not say anything new. He will restate what he always said and that is that he wants the EU and the Euro to succeed. The UK as a trading nation will remain in the EU single market (although it is still not a real single market – more integration and liberalization is needed in my view).
Yes in British eyes the EU is interfering with too many aspects of British lives and Britain will probably ask for some concession from Brussels. David Cameron will have to defend his own taxpayers and voters. He will have to protect the interests of the city of London and its financial markets.
Whether he will announce a referendum in the UK over staying in the EU is unlikely but some referendum over the relationship with the EU within the EU might be possible. However, I don’t claim to know whether Cameron will announce such a thing or not.
He will underscore the importance of fiscal prudence and good economic policies in order to avoid future economic crises such as the current one. The Germans and the Dutch will be glad to hear this. I also think that he will say that going backwards in integration is not the answer either. That on the other hand is something that the French and the Italians might like hearing.
He might however, twist his speech by emphasizing the “how”. Perhaps a new way to think about all these partnerships and integrations.
I am not surprised that an ordinary British citizen does not understand the EU, few people in Brussels really do. The ongoing crisis is changing the dynamism of the EU like never before as we speak.
I, in my view, claim the the UK is a plus for the EU. Without it the EU would be more boring and more bureaucratic. With the UK, the EU has more dynamism and more pragmatism. Pragmatism is something that the EU needs right now during its ongoing crisis.
British members of the European Parliament (notably Nigel Farage and Daniel Hannan) are being very outspoken against the democratic deficit of some EU institutions. That is something I happen to agree with. The importance of democratic principle is again, something that David Cameron will mention but it is nothing new.
I claim that France, Germany that happen to mark their anniversary are along with the UK the three most important members of the EU. The relationship of the first two is the building block of the EU and are also the two biggest EU and eurozone economies. The UK is the third biggest EU economy (and 7th biggest globally) and therefore important.
UK is also important because without it English would not be a working language in the EU institutions, and it is now the most spoken language in the EU, whether being a first language or not.
If the UK was not in the EU, either France or Germany would have their way at the expense of the other, which is partially happening now with the Euro and its crisis. I also claim that the EU needs the UK to save it from itself.
Whether the speech will be historic or not is not up to debate. Of course it will. It is supposed to be a historic speech. But, whether the speech will be some historic turning point in the UK’s relationship with the EU is difficult to tell and I don’t think we will be able to tell it right away.
I think that whether this speech will be a historic turning point in Britain’s relationship with the EU will be clear in a few years after the UK and the EU took some concrete steps in either direction. The real historic value of this speech will maybe be really clear only after a decade or a few.
But I do not expect to hear anything extraordinary, new or “super-historic”.
Good Luck to David Cameron.