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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

My in-depth review of the full, disappointing speech by David Cameron

Two days ago I already published my review on the designated speech by British PM David Cameron.

However, today the actual speech was held and it contained aspects that have not been dealt with in my first article. My article, as you might know, was based on the highlights of the speech as collected last Friday by press bureau Reuters. These parts have probably been leaked as a teaser for the real thing.

Today the full speech was published in the Guardian. I will pick out the highlights that have not been discussed yet in my first article and enhance them with my comments. The parts that have been discussed in the first article will be skipped. As hereunder will not be the complete speech, I gladly refer to my first article (2nd link) and the article in the Guardian.

[…] today the main, overriding purpose of the European Union is different [from the purpose in the beginning – EL]: not to win peace, but to secure prosperity.

The challenges come not from within this continent but outside it. From the surging economies in the east and south. Of course a growing world economy benefits us all, but we should be in no doubt that a new global race of nations is under way today.

So I want to speak to you today with urgency and frankness about the European Union and how it must change – both to deliver prosperity and to retain the support of its peoples.I don't just want a better deal for Britain. I want a better deal for Europe too.

I don’t like the arrogance in this part of the speech: what is good for the United Kingdom is good for Europe. And what Cameron wants is good for the UK. That dog don’t hunt. 

Cameron – of all persons – should understand that different countries and people have different needs. Those are not Cameron’s needs.

The [European] union is changing to help fix the currency – and that has profound implications for all of us, whether we are in the single currency or not.

Britain is not in the single currency, and we're not going to be. But we all need the eurozone to have the right governance and structures to secure a successful currency for the long term. And those of us outside the eurozone also need certain safeguards to ensure, for example, that our access to the single market is not in any way compromised.

The UK made a choice to not enter the Euro. It had of course the right to do so. But please, Cameron should not complain when the rules within the Euro-zone are changed and not in his favor. If you go to the prom, but don’t dress up to it, you should not complain that the prom queen won’t dance with you. So simple is that.

The UK will probably keep its safeguards as long as it stays in the EU, as the EU doesn't have a history of closing out countries. However, the country will not be pampered extra for keeping its own currency. It had drawbacks to enter the euro-zone and it had/has drawbacks to stay outside it. Accept those and don’t whine about it,  

Second, while there are some countries within the EU which are doing pretty well. Taken as a whole, Europe's share of world output is projected to fall by almost a third in the next two decades. This is the competitiveness challenge – and much of our weakness in meeting it is self-inflicted.

Complex rules restricting our labour markets are not some naturally occurring phenomenon. Just as excessive regulation is not some external plague that's been visited on our businesses.

He is right here, but he (hence: Britain) has not been an outsider in creating these rules and regulations in the past. The EU are 27 frogs in a wheel-barrow and Cameron wants it to remain that way. Those rules and regulations were created to keep all 27 countries happy; not one central government in Brussels. If some rules go too far, then Cameron must try to convince the other member states in a democratic and political fashion. If he can’t do so and he doesn’t want to live by those rules, get out of the EU.

So let me set out my vision for a new European Union, fit for the 21st century.

It is built on five principles.

The first: competitiveness. At the core of the European Union must be, as it is now, the single market. Britain is at the heart of that single market, and must remain so.

But when the single market remains incomplete in services, energy and digital – the very sectors that are the engines of a modern economy – it is only half the success it could be.

Putting the single market in the core of the EU, is underestimating what the rest of the EU stands for. This is a very simplistic view from an islander, who doesn’t understand how important the other European goals are for the other countries in Europe.

The subjects “services, energy and digital” are important for Britain, but are they equally important for the rest of Europe? Germany, Austria, France and Italy for instance are very INDUSTRIAL, but also Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) oriented nations and earn their money with that. 

Spain and Greece are moving away from agriculture towards industrialization and green energy. The East-European state suffer from a totally obsolete industry and widespread poverty and behindness. They currently see their people as their most important export product. 

Britain’s priorities are not their priorities (yet). 

And does Cameron want centralized steering to achieve the goals towards these sectors Energy, Services and Digital? He, who was against centralized steering?

I want us to be at the forefront of transformative trade deals with the US, Japan and India as part of the drive towards global free trade. I would ask: when the competitiveness of the single market is so important, why is there an environment council, a transport council, an education council but not a single market council?

The last sentence is a good question. What Cameron fails to understand is that “global free trade” gives many workers and lower-class citizens in Britain (and abroad) the willies. Global free trade will cost them their job or a large share of their salary, when knowledge workers from low-wage countries work for a bargain price. Or when Chinese or Vietnamese factories produce household appliances for a price far below the costprice in Europe. 

I’m not per se against global free trade, but here Cameron is confusing the interests of his Tory grassroots with the interests of Europe.

The second principle should be flexibility.

We need a structure that can accommodate the diversity of its members – north, south, east, west, large, small, old and new. Some of whom are contemplating much closer economic and political integration. And many others, including Britain, who would never embrace that goal.

I accept, of course, that for the single market to function we need a common set of rules and a way of enforcing them. But we also need to be able to respond quickly to the latest developments and trends.

Competitiveness demands flexibility, choice and openness – or Europe will fetch up in a no-man's land between the rising economies of Asia and market-driven North America.

The EU must be able to act with the speed and flexibility of a network, not the cumbersome rigidity of a bloc.

Also here Cameron is confusing the interests of him and his grassroots with the interests of Great Britain and the EU as a whole. This is quite arrogant again. The “EU as a network” sounds quite nice for the “financial dudes in the London city”, but for the jobless ex-miner in Yorkshire or the low-paid factory worker, this sounds probably much less attractive.

We must not be weighed down by an insistence on a one size fits all approach which implies that all countries want the same level of integration. The fact is that they don't and we shouldn't assert that they do.

Instead, let's start from this proposition: we are a family of democratic nations, all members of one European Union, whose essential foundation is the single market rather than the single currency.

The European treaty commits the member states to "lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe".

This has been consistently interpreted as applying not to the peoples but rather to the states and institutions compounded by a European court of justice that has consistently supported greater centralisation.

We understand and respect the right of others to maintain their commitment to this goal. But for Britain – and perhaps for others – it is not the objective.

We believe in a flexible union of free member states who share treaties and institutions and pursue together the ideal of co-operation. This vision of flexibility and co-operation is not the same as those who want to build an ever closer political union – but it is just as valid.

Cameron has a point with the first paragraph. Still, his focus on the single market ignores the political meaning behind the single currency and the history before this currency came. Yes, the Euro is not perfect at all, but a lot of people in Europe feel very comfortable having it. They would hate to go back to the situation of the Europe with the 27 currencies.

The flexible union is like the political version of the drive-in restaurant. You can order what you want and leave the rest behind. That is not the foundation that the EU is built upon and it is a mirage that you can change the EU to something like this. Forget it, Mr. Cameron.

My third principle is that power must be able to flow back to member states, not just away from them. This was promised by European leaders at Laeken a decade ago.It was put in the treaty. But the promise has never really been fulfilled. We need to implement this principle properly.

In Britain we have already launched our balance of competences review – to give us an informed and objective analysis of where the EU helps and where it hampers.

I can understand Cameron in the first paragraph. Europe decides on a mighty lot of subjects and not all decisions (“the maximum curve in a cucumber”) are very useful. However, what Europe did is giving people (human) rights and (when necessary) protection against their own government. One more thing. If we would investigate in The Netherlands which government body makes most rules: the Dutch government or the EU, I know who would ‘win’ this contest. And it is not the EU… I cannot imagine that the situation in Great Britain differs much from The Netherlands. 

I wonder if the British 'Commons is not also a regulation machine, like the Dutch government.

The EU is not the drive-in restaurant where you can take out what ‘helps’ and leave behind what ‘hampers’. This is naive and stupid.

Countries are different. They make different choices. We cannot harmonise everything. For example, it is neither right nor necessary to claim that the integrity of the single market, or full membership of the European Union requires the working hours of British hospital doctors to be set in Brussels irrespective of the views of British parliamentarians and practitioners.

In the same way we need to examine whether the balance is right in so many areas where the European Union has legislated including on the environment, social affairs and crime.

Cameron must not forget that it were/are the EUROPEAN GOVERNMENT LEADERS who had/have the final word in almost any decision on regulations and legislations! Not a nameless apparatchik in the Supreme Soviet. Brussels is not Moscow in the seventies. Cameron, Merkel, Sarkozy, Mark Rutte and Silvio Berlusconi were all part of Brussels!

He must also not forget that many European rules and legislations are about protection of people. From their government, but also from themselves and from people they are confronted with (bosses, colleagues and managers, but also other citizens, people in the traffic around them, civil servants and central government representatives).

To reside with the "hospital doctor" from Cameron's example: how sharp is a doctor after a 60 hour working week? Would you like to be the person on his operating table, when this doctor is exhausted?!  The 48 hour working week as regulated by the EU has a clear purpose. However, if the UK does not like it, they can always try to renegotiate those regulations. 

Ultimately, they could choose to leave the EU, as it is not a prison camp where you are involuntarily kept hostage. The British made a well-considered choice to enter the EU and they could now make a well-considered choice to leave it.

My fourth principle is 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.

It is national parliaments, which are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU.

It is to the Bundestag that Angela Merkel has to answer. It is through the Greek parliament that Antonis Samaras has to pass his government's austerity measures.

It is to the British parliament that I must account on the EU budget negotiations, or on the safeguarding of our place in the single market.

I also would like the EU to be much more democratic. Still, this is a part where I’m utterly in conflict with Cameron. Currently, the national parliament of Germany (“Der Bundestag”) and the constitutional court in Karlsruhe could decide over the future of the EU, through Germany’s veto. How democratic is that?! 

For the UK the national parliament is an important source. The UK is large enough to use its full democratic force within the EU. However, if you live in… say Lithuania: how much influence you think that your national parliament has in the EU?! Close to… nothing?!

The sad truth is that Europe’s future direction is decided upon by a few countries with a disproportionate large amount of influence: France, Germany, Italy and… the UK. If Cameron would not have messed up in December, 2011, he still would have had much influence. The relatively poor, “small” countries, like Greece, the Baltic states and the former Eastern Block countries (except for Poland) have the least influence, while they are at the same time the most dependent on the EU for their future.

I’m an advocate of the “one man, one vote” principle and I would like to have much more democratic influence on the European government bodies.The European Parliament is unfortunately a toothless tiger with too litle power. The European Commission consists of too many (weak) politicians that are often appointed as a favor for their glorious past, not for their brilliant future. Or they are chosen, because they offend nobody with their personality.

These circumstances made the EU and the European Commission such a disliked and distrusted institute. The representatives of these institutes are untouchable and invisible, because “we” made them untouchable and invisible. We includes you, Mr. Cameron!

My fifth principle is fairness: whatever new arrangements are enacted for the eurozone, they must work fairly for those inside it and out.

Our participation in the single market, and our ability to help set its rules is the principal reason for our membership of the EU.

This is again an egocentrical and very narrow-minded look at Europe and the Euro-zone by Cameron. EU is not the single market alone. So don’t treat it like it is.

And don’t cry about new arrangements for the Euro-zone. The UK decided that it (probably) never wants to be part of it. That was their own deliberate decision.

However, the large majority of the EU decided that it wanted to be in the Euro-zone. They now set the rules for the Euro-zone. The Euro-zone has more than enough courtesy to respect the rights of the countries without the Euro. 

This has happened in the past and it will remain happening in the future. However, you can’t fly business class if you don’t want to pay extra for the ticket. Therefore you can’t decide on the future of the Euro-zone when you didn’t want to be part of it in the past. That is simple…

Today, public disillusionment with the EU is at an all-time high. There are several reasons for this.

People feel that the EU is heading in a direction that they never signed up to. They resent the interference in our national life by what they see as unnecessary rules and regulation. Put simply, many ask "why can't we just have what we voted to join – a common market?"

They are angered by some legal judgements made in Europe that impact on life in Britain. Some of this antipathy about Europe in general really relates of course to the European court of human rights, rather than the EU.

Is this the opinion of whole Great Britain? Or the opinion of Cameron and his Tory friends? Let’s ask Nick Clegg of the LibDems. The bashing of the European court of human rights might be logical, but in my humble opinion it is not fair.

At the same time Cameron is right about the disillusionment with the EU. This is a logical result of the trying and pessimistic times that we are in currently. People are more focused inside. It is also a result of the lack of democracy of the current EU.

National politicians are also to blame: good and favorable European regulations were their achievement, while “bad” and unfavorable EU regulations could be blamed on the Supreme Soviet in "Brusselgrad".

There is, indeed, much more that needs to be done on this front. But people also feel that the EU is now heading for a level of political integration that is far outside Britain's comfort zone.They see treaty after treaty changing the balance between member states and the EU. And note they were never given a say.

The result is that democratic consent for the EU in Britain is now wafer-thin.

Some people say that to point this out is irresponsible, creates uncertainty for business and puts a question mark over Britain's place in the European Union.But the question mark is already there and ignoring it won't make it go away.

Again, Cameron is right here. This can also be blamed on the current political structure of the EU, that causes the enormous influence of a few, large countries on the political process.

That is why I am in favour of a referendum. I believe in confronting this issue – shaping it, leading the debate. Not simply hoping a difficult situation will go away.

The European Union that emerges from the eurozone crisis is going to be a very different body. It will be transformed perhaps beyond recognition by the measures needed to save the eurozone.

We need to allow some time for that to happen – and help to shape the future of the European Union, so that when the choice comes it will be a real one.

A real choice between leaving or being part of a new settlement in which Britain shapes and respects the rules of the single market but is protected by fair safeguards, and free of the spurious regulation which damages Europe's competitiveness.

A new settlement subject to the democratic legitimacy and accountability of national parliaments where member states combine in flexible co-operation, respecting national differences not always trying to eliminate them and in which we have proved that some powers can in fact be returned to member states.

In itself, I am not very much opposed to this referendum. However, be a man and don’t organize it in the distant future, while you use it to influence and even blackmail the EU partners.

And look too at what we have achieved already. Ending Britain's obligation to bail out eurozone members. Keeping Britain out of the fiscal compact. Launching a process to return some existing justice and home affairs powers. Securing protections on banking union. And reforming fisheries policy.

Hurrah! We profited from the single market. We have also profited from our exports to the PIIGS-countries. Our banks in the City were able to push these countries full with ridiculous loans for real estate and excess imports they should better not have purchased. We have made many billions of money on their misery. But we don’t pay one penny to help solving the shit that we created ourselves. We leave it for other countries instead. On top of that, we were able to keep our London City a fiscal place for freebooters and fortune-hunters. We are heroes!

[…]I agree […] with what President Barroso and others have said. At some stage in the next few years the EU will need to agree on treaty change to make the changes needed for the long-term future of the euro and to entrench the diverse, competitive, democratically accountable Europe that we seek.

I believe the best way to do this will be in a new treaty so I add my voice to those who are already calling for this.My strong preference is to enact these changes for the entire EU, not just for Britain.

I really wonder if the rest of the EU is waiting for Britain’s voice these days. I guess The Netherlands is, but I wonder if this is true for Spain, Hungary or Rumania.

[…] we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice. To stay in the EU on these new terms, or come out altogether.

It will be an in-out referendum.

Legislation will be drafted before the next election. And if a Conservative government is elected we will introduce the enabling legislation immediately and pass it by the end of that year. And we will complete this negotiation and hold this referendum within the first half of the next parliament.

It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics.

If the UK doesn’t want this referendum: vote Labour or LibDems. It’s up to you.

Of course Britain could make her own way in the world, outside the EU, if we chose to do so. So could any other member state.

But the question we will have to ask ourselves is this: is that the very best future for our country?

If we leave the EU, we cannot of course leave Europe. It will remain for many years our biggest market, and forever our geographical neighbourhood. We are tied by a complex web of legal commitments.

Perhaps Cameron could try a large outboard engine of 21 trillion HP. Mount it at Dover and put the pedal to the metal.

This was a bad joke. 

The real question is: what does Cameron want?! And does he really think that he can change the EU in such a way between now and 2017, that people who want to be out of the EU now, do change their mind in 2017?! Is he really that naive?!

I was impressed by the speech that was leaked through Reuters. I didn’t agree on anything, but I thought it was a very balanced and eloquent speech.

Today, I saw a different Cameron: a bit of a spoilt child that was whining and blackmailing his parents about the cookie he didn’t get and how unhappy it would make him.

I am truly disappointed about this speech and I am convinced that he shot himself in the foot with it. The EU will never be the drive-in restaurant where “you can order what you like”. 

The EU is also so much more than just the single market alone. Cameron is to blame for not seeing this point. He talked about the Elysée treaty in his speech, but he didn’t truly understand one syllable of it. He also doesn’t understand what the ex-Eastern Block countries went through in the not too distant past and why these wanted so much to be a member of the EU: definitely not for the single market alone.

Therefore Cameron should have better followed my advice and forget the darn speech after all. Both the EU and the Tories (not even to mention Nigel Farage’s UKIP) will dislike it: the EU because it goes too far and the Tories and UKIP, because it doesn’t go far enough.

I warned him for that in my first article on his speech:

These preceding circumstances make David Cameron’s speech very precarious, especially as a possible British referendum on the EU membership is like a giant elephant in the room: very much there, but supposedly not seen by anybody present.

If Cameron’s speech is too much anti-EU, then he passes a point-of-no-return that hardly leaves him any other option then heading for the door of the EU. In this case, not only the EU, but also the US will be angry with the UK, thus further isolating the island.

However, when his speech is not sufficiently aggressive and critical towards the EU, he will not only lose the confidence of a large part of the British population, but also within his own Tory party and grassroots he might become a ‘persona non grata’.

If I was David Cameron, I would start to suffer from a political pneumonia that keeps me in bed until the 23rd of January, hoping that everybody forgets about this doomed speech.

It’s sad that he didn’t follow-up a good advice!

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