A Tale of Two Speeches, Part 1- David Cameron

Within the past six weeks or so, two important speeches have been given about the future of Europe.  The first speech was delivered on January 23 by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and concerned the future of the UK in the EU.  On February 22, Germany’s President, Joachim Gauck, spoke about the prospects for the European idea.  I am well aware that journalists and bloggers have commented about the Prime Minister’s speech ad nauseam, but after he gave it, I knew I wanted to write about it.  The problem with being a part-time blogger, however, is that as I continued with my regular job, I saw the headlines come across my news feed of various reactions and commentaries about the speech.  How was I supposed to add to the discussion when so much was being written immediately after the speech had been made?  So, I made the conscious choice to not read any article related to the speech and wait before I began writing.  In the mean time, President Gauck gave his speech, and while I have not seen as much commentary as there was towards PM Cameron’s speech, I thought that perhaps I could compare the two speeches and their visions for Europe.

My initial thought on PM Cameron’s speech was that the UK wanted its cake and to eat it, too.  “For us,” Cameron argued, “the European Union is a means to an end- prosperity, stability…” That being the case, it would follow that the UK would want to see the EU be successful, a point he concedes later in the speech.  He follows that up with a line that he wants “a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps [the British] in it.”

While arguing that Britain should be in the EU, however, Cameron outlines what he deems “three major challenges” to Europe.  The first challenge is that the Eurozone crisis is affecting all other policies throughout Europe.  Cameron’s concern is that he does not want those problems affecting British “access to the Single Market.”  Second, European countries are in danger of falling behind other nations around the world.  Out of the three challenges, this one receives the least amount of attention.  (As an aside, Javier Solana brought up this same concern in a recent article, “The European-American Dream.”)  The final challenge, and one that Cameron comes back to often, is a growing “gap between the EU and its citizens…which represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent…”- in other words, the dreaded democratic deficit.  The British people are frustrated with the decisions coming from Brussels and want their concerns heard and acted on.

Once he finishes describing the challenges facing Europe, PM Cameron outlines his vision for the EU.  In his discussion of the first principle, competitiveness, Cameron calls for a “leaner, less bureaucratic Union,” arguing that the size of the EU hurts the ability of Member States to compete as well as the success of the Single Market.  I get the sense, however, that this section is more about making sure the British economy is not hurt and addressing the democratic deficit than making all of the European economies more competitive on the global stage.

In the section about the second principle, flexibility, Cameron emphasizes the importance of the Single Market to the EU, calling it the “essential foundation;” the Euro, however, is not as important to the success of the EU.  In the same section, he also discusses the degree of integration Member States should hold in the EU.  First, he argues that a “one size fits all approach” to integration does not work.  Next, he proposes that accepting varying degrees of integration will actually “bind [the EU’s] Members more closely because such flexible, willing cooperation is a much stronger glue than compulsion from the centre.”  If countries do not want the same level of integration across the board, then why join the EU in the first place?  Then, further in the speech, Cameron seems to contradict himself when he states, “The fact is that if you join an organisation like the European Union, there are rules.  You will not always get what you want.”

Principles three and four both address the concept of giving more power to the Member States and their respective parliaments.  This reinforces his earlier notion of the need for a smaller EU and his third challenge of the democratic deficit.  Here he argues that “national parliaments [are] and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU.”  Cameron’s argument, however, lacks any sort of discussion about the future role of the European Parliament, and so the reader is left to make his/her own conclusions.

Cameron’s final guiding principle for the future of the European Union is fairness.  Once again, he brings up the Single Market, this time stating that it is the main reason for UK membership in the EU.  What’s interesting about this is that towards the end of his discussion about the referendum he cannot define what the EU is or is going to be.  As a result, the UK will make its decision when the Eurozone crisis has been solved.

The last section of the speech is where PM Cameron basically tells the EU “this is how it’s going to be, or we’re gone.” First, the Single Market will be “at [the] heart” of the relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe.  After all, a successful Single Market is “vital for British business and jobs.”  This means then, that a strong Single Market is in British national interests.  If, however, the European nations cannot act together, then the UK will have to carefully weigh its options.  Cameron closes all of this by arguing that “just as I believe that Britain should want to remain in the EU so the EU should want us to stay.”  If we take into account everything he said prior to this point in the speech, what he is really saying is “Britain will be in the EU as long as the EU makes the necessary changes outlined by me and gives power back to the Member States.  If not, then we will have to revisit the nature of our relationship.”  As a parting shot, he then goes on to say that “it is hard to argue that the EU would not be greatly diminished by Britain’s departure.”  Again, reading between the lines, “This will hurt you more than it hurts us, so unless you want us to leave, thereby causing you more problems, make those changes I just proposed.”

To sum, it appears that in the best of worlds for the UK, a new EU would be: 1) smaller in size and scope, 2) relinquish powers back to the Member States and their respective national parliaments, and 3) do everything possible to ensure the success and fair access to the Single Market.  What I would like to know is, exactly whose vision is this- is this the sentiment of a majority of Britons, or is this coming from a small minority?  If, of course, my analysis of the speech is way off, I hope that somebody would be so kind as to help me understand.  I am genuinely interested in this topic, and I do want to understand the relationship between the UK and Europe, so I hope that if anybody does actually read this and feels the need to comment, please do so in a constructive manner.

In my next post (whenever that may be), I will compare PM Cameron’s speech with President Gauck’s speech, which was aptly titled, “Europe: Renewing confidence- strengthening commitment.”


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