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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A brave and democratically honest strategy - but will Cameron be able to stick to his timetable?

The British people will this morning be promised an In/Out referendum on Europe. In his speech, David Cameron will say that, if re-elected, he will legislate for a referendum to be held in the first half of the next Parliament (by end of 2017). He will negotiate a new deal in Europe, put it to the people, and campaign for a Yes. Think back two years, one year or even six months, and you can see just how far the debate has moved.

Given how difficult a task he had, his speech ticks most of the boxes. He'll set out a plausible and powerful case for Europe-wide reform, based on five principles, correctly pointing to three main challenges: how to reconcile euro and non-euro member states to EU membership, dwindling competitiveness and popular discontent.

These are his main target groups:

The British electorate: His speech should appeal to the majority of the British electorate that consistently says in polls it would prefer a better, slimmed down EU – rather than a Brixit or the status quo – if that's on offer. Whether the speech will lead to a poll bounce is anyone's guess.

His own party: The vast majority of Tory MPs who want a new deal in Europe, before contemplating Brixit, have got exactly what they wanted. Yes, there are those who think he said too much, others too little; those who want him to legislate for a (possibly "mandating") referendum in this Parliament. But within the constraints of the Coalition, while these discussions are important, surely they are secondary to the fact that the Prime Minister has outlined a clear course towards precisely the type of slimmed down Europe for which Conservatives have been calling for years? And Tory "outists" have got the chance to make their case in a referendum. It's intellectually and democratically honest.

There will be some cynicism as to whether it'll be 1975 all over again: token renegotiation followed by a referendum. But to think that Cameron could recommend staying in on basis that "access for New Zealand butter should continue indefinitely" (which was one main "achievement" Harold Wilson presented to Parliament), is pretty implausible. He wouldn't last a day.

European partners: Europeans who feared an imminent dawn raid on Brussels will be relieved. We're committed to European cooperation, Cameron will say, but the EU needs to adapt and change – become more flexible and democratic. There'll be mutterings of discontent, but for his basic pitch, he will get a fair hearing in national capitals. The more EU-wide he can make the case for reform, the better.

Cameron has the great merit of actually being on the right side of the argument in pointing out the changes Europe needs to thrive. And given that virtually all of the seven broad proposals for more Eurozone integration floating around require some re-opening of EU treaties to be completed, we suspect that Cameron will get at least one good shot at it. We also suspect that European partners will play ball given that, if the British were to leave, the single market would shrink by 15%, with £261.4bn in annual European exports facing extra costs; the EU budget would be some €14bn light; and Germany, the Netherlands and Finland (who write the cheques) will be awfully alone in that Northern bloc.

But, is his strategy, negotiation followed by an In/Out referendum by 2017, achievable? Cameron will not set out a specific "shopping list" of powers that he wants back - and he's right not to this far in advance. Trying to do so would only aggravate partners for little UK benefit. But, of course, Cameron's approach still contains a number of "ifs" and risks. He has set himself a concrete timetable, despite the fact that timetables in Europe are notoriously difficult to control. A Treaty change discussion could drag on for years. This is the trade-off in his speech: as insurance to his own party and the electorate he's now on a timetable, which may or may not coincide with that of the eurozone. Is he willing to recommend Out in 2017, if he doesn't get concessions?

If Cameron is to pull this off it will require a major diplomatic effort, and clever positioning, but Britain has seen through far greater challenges in the past. And Europe gone through much more fundamental changes. Both will come out better on the other side.

9 comments:

Rik said...

There is a lot that says it is do-able; there is a lot that says it will be very difficult.
Basically the EU one way or another needs a major revision, mainly around its democratic credibility with huge parts of the population. As long as this is not solved a UK population like reaction could happen in nearly all present memberstates. And as it likely would be a rather emotional one, things might simply fall apart.
On the other side the organisation has become a goal/purpose by itself with no real other reason that its own mere survival. With 27/28 national interests dominating the agenda.

Nevertheless the UK situation has to be stabilised one way or another and go on like before wasnot an option.
And even if the negotiations turn out negatively what I donot expect. Most of the work can be used for an art 50 exit as this will have to cover roughly the same points. Plus whatever the outcome it gives the UK population peace of mind. The issue is properly adressed by government the voter is taken seriously and could have his say.
Anyway the UK polls seem to give Cameron right. People are more EU positive and support for UKIP is getting less. It looks like the trend has been broken on both issues. However very unlikely he can sit back. There is still alot of work to be done.

2017? Difficult to see if it can done. However Cameron might get some extension when say in 2016 it becomes clear that 2017 will not be met because it is that much work. One or two years will likely be possible. Providing it is clear that a lot of effort has been put into it and a workload is enormous. If just for delaying purposes it likely will be difficult.

Now he will have to communicate to voters things like:
-what do we want back?
-realise it is an awful lot of work and not like cancelling membership of a sportclub;
-we always have relations with the EU (or go bust);
-why a reneg is better.

To markets:
-that it is not a simple exit, the freetrade will remain the same some way or another and probably even extended. If the focuss is moved from all sort of nonsense to where the EU was originally about: making trade easier.

And alot of stuff to the EU partners. They have to realise that it is also in their interes to stabilise the situation. And the sooner the better.
Creating a platform in the population and not only trying to do that with cheap talk , as that doesnot work. Make the treaties ready so if necessary steps can be taken.

Denis Cooper said...

If your advance information on what Cameron is going to say is correct, then it will not be "a brave and democratically honest strategy", it will just be another episode in the long-running saga of deceit and betrayal.

Firstly, of course, we have no idea whether Cameron will be Prime Minister in 2017, although this grubby little manoeuvre is clearly intended to increase the chances of that happening and indeed that is its main purpose.

Secondly, we know that a promise from Cameron is worthless, and remains worthless even if it is put into a Tory election manifesto.

Thirdly, if he does get re-elected and he does then attempt a "renegotiation" and he does then hold a referendum, it will indeed be a re-run of 1975 in many respects; and what is the basis for your claim that if he tried that then "He wouldn't last a day", when Wilson tried it and succeeded?

Fourthly, what will be happening in the EU over the coming years while we are being denied a referendum?

The UK government apparently thinks that it is in UK interests to stand aside and not only allow but encourage the eurozone to be turned into a federation, which under the present EU treaties is then legally required to expand from the present 17 to (N - 2) countries where N is the number of EU member states, N set to rise from the present 27 and possibly approach 40, and only the UK and Denmark having an "opt-out" from ever having to join the euro; and where will that leave the UK in the longer term?

Fifthly, why does Cameron refuse to ask us the fundamental question of whether we wish to continue further with the process of "ever closer union" mandated by the present EU treaties, and ask us that now before there are any more negotiations on possible treaty changes for whatever purpose?

There is nothing here for those who believe in British national sovereignty and democracy, only for the eurofederalists.

Jesper said...

I'm not sure if having having the referendum after the next election is a good idea. Doing that makes it easy to accuse him of electioneering. He can deliver a referendum before the next election, he can't make any promises for after.

If this was to be managed as a project then I think it would be broken down into smaller pieces as firm deadlines set to ensure that the project would be finished on time.

-Time needed for informing the public about the alternatives can be estimated to be? 6-12 months?

-Time needed to negotiate with EU institutions about which powers they can give up? 1-2 years?

It looks like it would be possible to have the referendum before the next election. I suppose it is possible that other countries do not want to rush this but I do believe that setting a deadline - the date for the referendum - should be done as soon as possible.

& the ones who believes this will open up a can of worms as other countries will request the same as the UK (re-negotiation):

-If many countries want to change the treaties does that not make the argument that the treaties should be changed even stronger?
-If only a few countries want to change the treaties, wouldn't that make it easy to change the treaties?

The question if a re-negotiation is achievable? If he doesn't try then it is an automatic failure. The ones who argue that he shouldn't try because it might be difficult to achieve sounds like people who'd quit at the first sign of difficulty. Do they only attempt do do things that they know they can easily achieve and give up on the rest? They do not look like people who strive to continually improve.

Ray said...

Rik, yes it's all "do able" but does he at heart really want to do it ? I certainly do not trust him, he gave his cast iron promise knowing full well that the Czech's could not hold out for much longer and that Brown would crawl across broken glass to sign the Lisbon treaty. That's when he lost a lot of his support and the defections are growing. This may slow the migration, but as soon as he comes under pressure to solidify this promise, and weakens it, it will pick up again.

Denis Cooper said...

"And given that virtually all of the seven broad proposals for more Eurozone integration floating around require some re-opening of EU treaties to be completed, we suspect that Cameron will get at least one good shot at it."

You may suspect that Cameron will get at least one good shot, but why should we believe that he would take it when he didn't take the last good shot that was offered?

To quote the Tory MP Mark Reckless in October 2011, Column 36 here:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm111024/debtext/111024-0001.htm

"The Prime Minister tells The Daily Telegraph today that we should use any treaty change to shore up the euro to get powers over employment and social policy back, yet on 25 March, he agreed to precisely such a treaty change, but did not ask for anything in return."

Jesper said...

One more thing to be addressed about the EU. It is claimed that it is a peace project. While it might possibly be true that states in a union might not make war against each other it is most definitely true that there was a civil war in the Federal US between states. If it is a war or a civil war isn't that important for the ones fighting, killing and dying.

Trade - definitely possible without a superstate.
Peace - definitely possible without a superstate and the superstate would not make war impossible.

The drive to standardise all across Europe creates conflicts: Everybody wants everybody else to adopt their standard. EU is, in its drive to standardise things, in effect causing tension in Europe. Quite the opposite of being a force for peace.

The drive towards the superstate has gone too far and it is time to go back towards firmer ground.

Rik said...

@Ray
He will have to make a pretty good effort to get reelected.
It is the only issue that gives him a chance of winning, in a bad economy. So he has no other choice than to deliver on this (at least show he is doing his utmost, but even possibly have to show some results).

But he cannot write out a refendum now.
-You cannot put a reneg in a referendum question it is as simpkle as that. You need yes/no or in/out. While a structural reneg looks to be the preferred option in polls.
-He is in a coalition government and cannot decide on his own.

Will he do it. Well, imho he has little choice. It appears to be working looking at the polls. Bur getting back on that will politically kill him. The public usually allows making one time a mistake when it is corrected. But 2 times not. Getting back on this means, UKIP on the map and not getting reelected and a huge dip for the Conservatives. If you give your client (voters) the impression you simply donot care a bit about them you are history.

So even his lack of credibility has advantages. In the way that it will be clear that he doesnot have a third chance. It is up or out time in this respect.

Rollo said...

Yes, he very bravely kicked the can further down the road and past the next election. He knows he will lose the next election unless he allows the UK to get Out of the EU. So he promises a referendum if elected. Have I heard this before, Mr Cast Iron Pledge Cameron? And afterwards, when repatritaion has failed, he can say: 'the circumstances are not the same. Have we heard that befor, CIPC?'.
The only time I would believe what he says is if he says:'I'm a lying cheat who would say anything to get elected'.

Anonymous said...

More Faux Euroscpticism from the insidiously EuroFascist Open Europe.