After months of anticipation, British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday delivered his much awaited-speech on the UK’s role in Europe.
Under intense pressure from the euroskeptic side of his own Conservative Party, Cameron promised to offer the British people an in/out referendum on EU membership. Before that, however, he hopes to re-negotiate a ‘new settlement’ for the UK in Europe.
‘Simply asking the British people to carry on accepting a European settlement over which they have had little choice is a path to ensuring that when the question is finally put — and at some stage it will have to be — it is much more likely that the British people will reject the EU.
That is why I am in favour of a referendum. I believe in confronting this issue — shaping it, leading the debate. Not simply hoping a difficult situation will go away.
Some argue that the solution is therefore to hold a straight in-out referendum now’, British Prime Minister David Cameron said.
But things are not that simple. The referendum would only come if Cameron wins the next elections in 2015. Recent opinion polls show Cameron is currently trailing behind the opposition Labour party.
The UK Independence party, who wants a complete break-up with Europe, is also gaining momentum in Britain. This is why some believe, the speech could not have come at a better time.
‘It was a speech delivered as a Conservative leader, not as the British Prime Minister.
This was all about politics, this was all about buying time for himself, by getting himself to the next election by keeping his party together. As a result of the statement he made today, his party has no reason now to fall apart. He has promised them a referendum, what more can they ask!?’. This was a speech of someone whose own party is divided and who’s facing a threat from the UK’s independence party. , said Liberal democrat MEP Chris Davis.
‘What I heard from the british PM this morning was a huge ambivalence. ‘I’ll leave it 4 years before we have to have a referendum’. He has left the whole discussion and decision about Europe hanging out in the wind. That’s not good for business, that’s not good for Britain in Europe, that’s not good for British citizenship in Europe.’, said Labour MEP Peter Skinner.
According to Cameron, a potential EU treaty change to achieve closer integration in the eurozone could be a great opportunity for the UK to re-gain some of the Brussels-controlled powers. He did not mention, however, which powers he was referring to.
‘My strong preference is to enact these changes for the entire EU, not just for Britain. But if there is no appetite for a new Treaty for us all then of course Britain should be ready to address the changes we need in a negotiation with our European partners’, Cameron said.
But EU leaders have already warned Cameron that an EU ‘a la carte’ is a no-go and he can not ‘cherry-pick’ what policies he wants to subscribe to.
‘I think there will be a great deal of resentment amongst other member states if there is that cherry-picking. As Guy Verhofstadt, the Liberal leader has said, if Britain wants to cherry-pick, then 26 other countries will want to cherry-pick too, and then we all fall apart’, said Liberal democrat MEP Chris Davis.
‘Nobody will accept this. Its unrealistic so therefore it makes for an impossible dream, which you sell to the public back in the UK just in order to be able to make a satisfactory piece to your own backbencher in your own political party. How ridiculous does that sound’, said Labour MEP Peter Skinner.
The UK became a member of the EU in 1973 and since then, it has opted-outs from key EU policy areas. The country is not part of the eurozone and has not signed the free-border Schengen Treaty.