David Cameron delivered a speech on Britain’s status within the European Union Wednesday morning, laying out his proposal for a referendum on the issue. The referendum will be held in 2017, assuming a Conservative victory in the 2015 elections. Nationalist leaders in Scotland see the announcement as an opportunity to gain support for the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014. Controversy surrounds First Minister Alex Salmond’s claim that Scotland would seek to join the EU as an independent state without needing to reapply.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Mr. Cameron argued the European Union is headed towards new economic and political integration that not all members want. He proposed a “vision of flexibility and co-operation” for a stronger, more democratic union which “reflects the realty of the European Union today.”
The speech, as written, contested the European Treaty’s remit to “lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.” Mr. Cameron, claiming Britain “would never embrace” greater centralization or the Euro, suggested instead the EU be considered “a family of democratic nations…whose essential foundation is the single market rather than the single currency.”
Mr. Cameron will seek to reform the EU before putting “an in-out referendum” to the British people. He outlined “five principles” of improvement: competitiveness (“the Single Market remains incomplete in services, energy and digital;” pushing “trade deals with the US, Japan and India;” eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy), flexibility (“a structure that can accommodate the diversity of its members”), repatriation of powers (“promised by European Leaders at Laeken a decade ago,” but “never really fulfilled”), democratic accountability (a “more significant role for national parliaments”), and fairness (the EU “must work fairly for those inside it and out”).
After these areas are successfully addressed, Mr Cameron said he will put it to the British people, “To stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether.” Acknowledging the UK’s connections with the EU, its role in forming the single market and fostering European integration since the Second World War, Mr. Cameron’s “preference is to enact these changes for the entire EU, not just for Britain.” He claimed refusing “to contemplate consulting the British people,” ignoring their grievances, would ultimately make Britain’s exit from the EU more likely.
Mr. Cameron argued the EU must adapt to modernity; its main objective today, when “challenges come not from within this continent but outside it,” is “not to win peace, but to secure prosperity.” Europe is facing a “race of nations” for future wealth and jobs, he said—yet also warning not “to be misled by the fallacy that a deep and workable single market requires everything to be harmonised, to hanker after some unattainable and infinitely level playing field.”
Britain’s international influence is greater through the EU, and the EU reciprocally benefits from British power. “It matters to our ability to get things done in the world,” Mr. Cameron said. Still, citing NATO as an example, he emphasized Britain will only remain in the alliance so long as doing so serves her national interests. “Of course Britain could make her own way in the world, outside the EU,” he said; but noted Norway and Sweden, other small countries outside the EU, “are very different” from Britain, and have little authority on EU matters that nonetheless effect them.
Mr. Cameron highlighted discrepancies within European Union—membership in the Schengen agreement, single currency, and single market is not always contingent on one another—as evidence of varying levels of alliance within the EU. There are “other parties in other European countries” arguing for repatriation, he said; and people in Britain are asking why they should inherit policies dictated from Brussels. Mr. Cameron cited EU President Manuel Barrossa, amongst others, as agreeing that the EU will need an updated Treaty “in the next few years.”
Mr. Cameron’s main argument was economic. Britain will still be greatly affected by Europe if it were to exit, without sway in EU policy. Remaining in a restrictive EU is not ideal either. He wants Brits to have their say on the European Union, only after working to improve it. Mr. Cameron acknowledged that the UK’s position regarding the EU may seem “argumentative,” but concluded “the European Union is a means to an end—prosperity, stability, the anchor of freedom and democracy both within Europe and beyond her shores—not an end in itsself.”