Finally it arrived. The British Prime Minister’s big speech about Great Britain and the European Union. As we expected, it contained a frontal showdown with European cooperation as we know it, but only feeble hints of what Cameron would replace it with.
We are to understand that he sees the Single Market as the core of the European Union, and he sees a Europe of many speeds. He wants to create a more democratic EU and he wants to move areas of competence from Brussels back to member states.
At the same time, the speech contained a catalogue of popular accusations against the EU – for being too bureaucratic, too centralist, too distant and too unfocused on the problems that European countries have with failing competitiveness.
But the speech fails to address the core issues in the discussion of Europe’s future. All 27 countries would agree that the Single Market should be developed further and enhanced. But that entails more, and not less Europe
Cameron vaguely suggests that British interests would be served by a treaty review. A review of the EU’s treaty is not in the making, and Cameron’s colleagues – even with the best will in the world – can hardly give him anything other than cosmetic concessions.
The democratic control of the European Union resides with the individual member parliaments. That is something that we have decided. What we can require of Brussels is transparency and the efficient administration of existing rules.
A multi-speed EU is a reality that need not scare people. But if one rejects parts of the cooperation – influence suffers the same fate – something that Denmark is fully aware of in connection with its own opt-outs.
Cameron’s speech has taken his country’s EU future hostage for hazy demands that are lost in a fog of rhetoric. Nonetheless, if we can help Britain ashore, we should do so. Britain belongs in Europe – and the EU is best served with Britain as a constructive member.
But at the end of the day, there is nothing we can do if the British decide that they are only prepared to be members of a Europe that is different from the one in place on the Continent.
There is, of course, much that the EU can and should do better. There is also much in the way that the cooperation functions that we would like to be different. But the Union is both a success and a necessity.
Cameron’s vision for Europe simply does not work. Not for Britain. Not for the European Union – and certainly not for us. He is demanding the impossible, and he cannot have it.
Not from the EU and not from Denmark.
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Translated by Julian Isherwood