At last, David Cameron has finally delivered it. Despite the odds being stacked against him, today the prime minister gave his highly-anticipated speech on the future of the UK's relationship with Europe at the London HQ of US information business, Bloomberg. Given that Cameron intended to stage the address last week in the Netherlands but was forced to postpone it due to the nature of the Algerian hostage crisis, some of the speech had already been leaked to the media. Before leaving for the proposed trip to Amsterdam, a journalist near me skim read the speech from his netbook. "Drift", he said. "That's the line". Indeed it may well be in 2015. After finally getting the chance to hear the speech this morning, Cameron has stated that Britain could drift towards Europe's exit, unless negotiations on treaty changes are granted.
Perhaps suggesting his focus, the PM spoke in front of a quote reading "Britain and Europe", notably not "Britain in Europe", which suggests a rather important distinction. Speaking to the media, Cameron reiterated that renegotiations on current treaty contracts are the desired plan of action, though failing that, an in/out referendum will be called for. Cameron stated that the idea was not to win peace but to secure prosperity for the UK, again highlighting that protecting British interests is his number one priority. Stating that his approach to Europe had previously been "tantric", it is now "of great urgency" for the PM. Cameron continued:
"I am not a British isolationist. I don’t just want a better deal for Britain. I want a better deal for Europe too."
"I want Europe to be a success and I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it."
Directly referring to the prospect of an EU exit, Cameron stated, "I do not want that to happen".
However, Cameron identified three major challenges which were: problems in Eurozone, crisis of European competitiveness and a gap between the EU and its citizens. Attacking Labour and the Lib Dems, the PM stated that there were certain people who did not want to face "difficult decisions" in securing British interests within the EU, and he further commented that allowing EU members more flexibility would bind it more closely together.
Specifically calling for a "leaner, less bureaucratic EU", a key point of Cameron's address was his rejection of the EU's desire for an "ever closer union". Appearing more tactical as he went on, the PM confirmed that:
"If we left the EU, it would be a one-way ticket, not a return". At the prospect of a referendum, the choice would be "between leaving or being part of a new settlement".
Believing in his proposal, Cameron claimed that if he was to get a deal in renegotiation, he would campaign for it with all his heart. But if not? The key question Cameron needed to answer today was whether he would pledge to stay in the EU if negotiations were to fail. On this, he twice dodged the question telling the BBC's Political Editor, "I don't do hypotheticals".
In context, Cameron acknowledged five principles in his approach to a new EU: competitiveness, flexibility, power flowing back to member states, democratic accountability and fairness.
"I believe we can achieve a new settlement in which Britain can be comfortable and all our countries can thrive", he pledged.
One hopes that this could be true, though only time will tell if negotiations will be successful. With talks likely to go on until 2015, Cameron's desire for a new EU is still a long way from his reach. Expect there to be a lot more "banging on about Europe" from the PM whist he gets busy drawing up his manifesto for the next general election.
By Emily Stacey