Today, the British Prime Minister David Cameron gave his much awaited EU speech in London. The speech can be read from here.
Expectations surrounding the speech were very high and it was labelled historic well in advance of its delivery. This is not the first time that a British prime minister has made an important speech on European integration. Take, for example, Winston Churchill in 1946 (Zürich – United States of Europe), Margaret Thatcher in 1988 (Bruges – a turn in EU relations), John Major in 1994 (Leiden – a stop to the deepening of integration) and Tony Blair 2006 (European Parliament – time for economic reforms).
As expected, Mr Cameron?s speech was very skilfully constructed, making its tough requirements sound like a means of curing the ills of the entire EU. Cameron assured his audience that Britain wants to stay in the EU.
Mr Cameron listed three challenges faced by the European Union: closer convergence of the eurozone countries, competitiveness in relation to the emerging economies and citizens’ attitudes to the EU. Mr Cameron believes that, put together, these necessitate the renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU.
Mr Cameron stated that he was striving to achieve the following:
1. Competitiveness (including the digital single market, free trade)
2. Flexibility ? no to ”an ever closer union”
3. Repatriation of powers to Member States ? for example the Working Time Directive
4. Stronger role for national Parliaments
5. Fairness for all Member States
Mr Cameron’s tactics involve fighting the 2015 parliamentary elections on these principles, getting these changes implemented (requires a Treaty change), and then holding an in-out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
The Tories have shown increasing antipathy to the EU since Margaret Thatcher’s period as Prime Minister. Internal disagreement on the direction of the UK’s European policy caused a great deal of trouble for Thatcher and her successor John Major. Over the years, the British media ? especially publications owned by Rupert Murdoch ? have become more strident in their eurosceptic stance. At the same time, increasingly anti-European Tories have won seats in the British Parliament. When running for the Tory Party Leadership in 2005, Cameron was forced to promise that he would end cooperation with the European People’s Party (EPP, includes the Finnish National Coalition Party). For that reason, my British friends and former group members in the European Parliament have, during the current electoral period, been sitting in their own, rather small ECR group.
It is not in Finland’s interests to see Britain distance itself from the core of European cooperation. Britain is our natural ally in issues concerning the development of the internal market, fair and open competition, and free trade. Our aims are often very similar as regards the EU’s everyday legislative work. The EU’s international stance would also be weakened without Britain.
However, uncertainty about the UK’s relationship with the EU ? not to mention its exit from the Union ? will cause most harm to Britain itself. The country’s influence in international politics and London’s position as one of the main European business destinations would suffer considerably if the UK opted to leave the EU. The island nation’s closest ally, the United States, has publicly declared that it wants ”a strong UK in a strong EU”. Cameron is not in favour of leaving the EU either, but it may prove very difficult to fulfil his list of demands. For the sake of Finland, the UK and Europe, I hope that he will be able to dig himself out of the hole he and his party have dug for themselves.