I was interested that my brief blog on Mr Cameron’s Europe speech got the biggest ever response. Clearly you do not need my thoughts to get you going, when you are interested in the topic.
Now some of the dust has settled I thought I would put down some of my observations on the EU debate brought on by that speech.
The first thing to say is that all those who think the UK public are not interested in the issue of the EU or are turned off by parties banging on about Europe need to think again. The press and public interest has been big. The Conservatives have gone up in the polls whilst holding a very public conversation about how far and how fast we should go in a Eurosceptic direction. Just as Mr Cameron got a big improvement in ratings when he vetoed any UK membership of the Fiscal Treaty, so too his ratings have gone up during debates over that speech.
The second is to say to all those who want deeds not words, on this occasion the words matter and they were good. The EU world will not be the same again, now a UK Prime Minister has dared to explain that we do not wish to join their union. It is no longer a question of a slower pace of travel in the same direction, no longer a question of a few opt outs.
Many of you will agree with these words:
“We have the character of an island nation – independent, forthright, passionate in defence of our sovereignty. We can no more change this British sensibility than we can drain the English Channel.”
“First, the problems in the Eurozone are driving fundamental change in Europe. Second , there is a crisis of European competitiveness… And third there is a gap between the EU and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years. And which represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent that is – yes – felt particularly acutely in Britain.”
“The European Treaty commits the Member states to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe…. for Britain it is not the objective”
“power must be able to flow back to Member States, not just away from them.”
“democratic accountability – we need to have a bigger and more significant role for national Parliaments. There is not, in my view, a single European demos.”
In the UK “People feel that the EU is heading in the wrong direction that they never signed up to. They resent the interference in our national life by what they see as unnecessary rules and regulation. ”
“It is time for the British people to have their say… I say to the British people: this will be your decision”
The third observation is this speech has made many on the continent think again. They were happy to ignore UKIP polling 3% in a General Election and 20% in a European election, with a Conservative Eurosceptic choir in Parliament demanding change. They first realised there was something more serious when 100 MPs voted for a referendum. It is altogether more serious to have the leader of the largest party and the Prime Minister saying that the EU is not working for the UK and offering a vote on whether to leave.
Heavyweight German opinion has let it be known that they agree with various criticisms Mr Cameron has made of the EU. They have also indicated that if the UK electorate did vote out, they would of course want a proper Free Trade Agreement with us to defend their most important export industries. Dutch opinion has included voices who like Mr Cameron’s idea of Member States having much more power and say over a wide range of policy. Some have spoken out about the tribulations the Euro is now causing its members.
It is early days. Much will happen before we get our promised and much needed referendum. However, the game has changed. It is difficult to believe that Mr Miliband can hold his position for long that Labour neither wants to negotiate a new relationship nor wants to give the UK electors their say. If electors respond positively to the pollsters saying they want this referendum and want a new and different relationship for the UK with the EU, we could see more progress.