To Britain’s Advantage? Cameron’s Speech on Europe

In 1946, bearing in mind the horrors and the dismay the Second World War had brought over Great Britain and the rest of Europe, Winston Churchill gave a speech in which he outlined his vision how to keep war in Europe from reappearing. He said: “[the remedy] is to re-create the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living.” [1] Today, not only has this anticipation of a ‘United States of Europe’ lost its entire appeal all over Europe, but it has also been replaced by euro-scepticism, and some might even call it Euro-phobia. David Cameron sought to address these feelings in his keynote speech on Europe, in which he promised his fellow countrymen to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the European Union. So, what did he say and does this refer to the UK and the rest of the EU?

Image courtesy of President of the European Council, © 2011, some rights reserved
Image courtesy of President of the European Council, © 2011, some rights reserved

In his speech, Cameron claimed that the EU was now heading toward centralisation that the British people had never signed up for; this is not true. The 1957 Treaty of Rome clearly stated that this treaty was about to establish “the foundations of an ever closer union among the European peoples” [2]. When the Tory government under Edward Heath signed up for the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, it was absolutely clear that Europe was meant to become more than just a single market and an economic community – from the very beginning, it was an idea of bringing the nations and peoples of Europe together. Cameron reduces the EU to an economic project which is supposed to benefit the national interests of the member states. However, Europe is so much more – it is the lesson taught by two devastating world wars which resulted from racism and petty-minded nationalism. Cameron thinks, since Western Europe has seen almost 70 years of constant peace, that there is no need to promote further consolidation as Churchill had envisioned. The rise of racist parties all over Europe in the wake of the economic crisis, for instance the Golden Dawn movement in Greece, and the general tiredness of Europe speaks a different language: after all, Europe’s transnational social peace might be less solid than Cameron thinks. Cameron also cites the “surging economies in the East and South” [3] as a threat to Britain’s economic interests and to the prosperity of UK citizens – however, it doubtful that any single European country will soon be able to engage in meaningful competition with the likes of China and other emerging powers; it is also questionable if anything else but a fiscal union amongst the EU member states will be able to keep future financial crises from reappearing.

Cameron’s speech also seems to be driven by simple party politics. This somehow casts a shadow on his “for the sake of Britain”-agenda. Cameron fears that the right wing of his own party might drift further away from his own person and that even more Tory protest voters might boost the ranks of UKIP, the infamous anti-Europe party which has performed quite well in recent opinion polls. This is the reason why Cameron promised the following: “The next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners […].And when we have negotiated that new settlement, 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.” [3] No matter how you look at it, these words convey a simple message: either the EU gives in to British demands, or the UK will leave. Alongside taking the EU a hostage of the UKIP and Tory backbench right-wing populists, it also casts doubts on Cameron’s intentions: does he really want to strike a better bargain for the UK or does he merely want to please his own party?

The overall answer to Britain’s problems cannot be less Europe – it must be more Europe. For sure, the EU is facing some serious problems; especially its notorious democratic deficit needs to be cured, no matter how a future EU might look like. It also needs to presents itself no longer as an aloof project for the elites but rather as home for every European citizen and must be made ready for a globalised 21th century. This can only be done by a introducing more democracy and a closer political, financial, and economic union –a union for the citizens of Europe and not for just some nations.

[1] Speech of Sir Winston Churchill (1946) Available at: [Accessed: 25 Feb 2013].

[2] The Treaty of Rome (1957) Available at:

[3] The Independent (2013) Full text: David Cameron’s Europe speech. Available at: [Accessed: 25 Feb 2013].

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