European Union by David Cameron

Is David Cameron the next Charles de Gaulle? Will he push the European Union (EU) to the edge of a new „Empty Chair Crisis”? Wednesday 23rd, 2013 became the day for the long awaited and many months delayed speech for the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) on the British future in the EU. Unlike many colleagues stressing out that this speech and the plan to organize a referendum in UK in 2017 if reelected is only a public relations move, one should be more precautious. I would also oppose analysts who call this a historic speech as this would be an exaggeration at this point of time. PM’s speech is more complex and it should not be overlooked or undermined by labeling it. Thus, several issues, I would like to address in this short article are: 1) internal/external politics of UK behind the ‘EU speech’; 2) the potentially new institutional crisis in the EU; 3) the EU institutional future as foreseen by David Cameron.

Firstly one needs to look not that much at what was said, but what are the effects of the speech. Like a good old discourse analyst do, we must look beyond “beyond the text”. We must address the context and the reception of the speech in order to understand it more. Prime Minister Cameron acknowledged and clearly stated many trends that one had the opportunity to observe in British stance towards the EU over the past couple of decades. British voters, mass media and politicians tend to perceive themselves and their country as independent, sovereign and self-confident part of the world community. It has not been a secret that the UK has been the traditional critic of the deepening of the EU integration: “And it’s true that our geography has shaped our psychology. We have the character of an island nation – independent, forthright, passionate in defence of our sovereignty.”[1]

This reluctant attitude towards political integration of UK into the EU and of the EU in general appeals to politicians, including the ones in Conservative party, and the mass media generally praising Cameron’s EU Speech. Thus, the Speech can be seen as appeasement policy for both the domestic groups (including the support gaining convinced euro-skeptics of the UK Independence Party) and the critics of British criticism in other EU member states. Namely, the politicians from more pro-integration countries have time to time expressed their dissatisfaction with both the British reluctance to go further with the EU integration projects, as well as their opt-outs and the UK rebate. The external critics are now introduced to a clear stance of the UK at the time being – willingness to remain in Single Market, improve the Common market, and have a plebiscite on political ties of Britain to the EU. The EU Speech gave a clear position and timeline for British (or Conservative Party) interests in the current EU, thus appeasing those advocating for and those warning of the UK’s immediate exit from the EU and the following collapse of the EU.

This brings to the second point which is on the potential institutional crisis the EU Speech has opened the doors for. Or maybe prevented. David Cameron has not only welcomed the discussion on the next institutional and economic structure of the European Union and its member states, but he has just publically stated the British interests and position on the matter. The position which involves withdrawing from the EU integration process if necessary. The position which involves supremacy of national interests over the hope and belief in the complex and unfinished process of building the EU. From the beginning of the sovereign debt crisis in the EU and speculations about the collapse of the Eurozone or even the EU, no strong political protagonists of the EU disintegration were voicing themselves. Now David Cameron could become the leader and an inspiration for anti-EU political groups in other member states as well.

At the same time, UK is different. The UK sees itself as leader in innovations, science, and financial activity in Europe. Country sees itself as strong enough to be on its own in the modern world of complex economic and political ties and organizations. Maybe the modern world with its supranational trends and multilateral institutions is not for the UK? British have their history of Splendid Isolation, have their history of global hegemony and currently well-established political position in the world. Thus, it shows the potential political followers of D. Cameron’s stance in other EU countries, that their states should be as self-aware and military, politically and economically strong to live without the EU or at least bluff on the exit of the European Union.

Finally one must turn to the institutional future foreseen by David Cameron in his EU Speech. His grasp upon the current state of the art in the European Union has been to some extent supported also by the Latvian minister of foreign affairs stating that he has been emphasizing some of the issues addressed by Prime Minister Cameron in his speech as well, including the ultimate necessity of preservation of the common market[2]. Single Market and its completion is seen as essential in the EU Speech and the future of the EU: „But today the main, over-riding purpose of the European Union is different: not to win peace, but to secure prosperity.”[3] For Britain this statement could be true, but for other, smaller EU member states deepening of the political integration is essential from their foreign policy strategy and survival point of view.

David Cameron’s EU is a mean to an end, not an end itself. He emphasizes the voluntary integration rather than integration by necessity. And he emphasizes the increased competitiveness through reducing the heavy bureaucratic decision making process. But, there are different needs and interests of countries making the picture of voluntary integrations ever more complex. The only question arises whether that would necessarily reduce bureaucracy and make the functioning of the EU more efficient if counties will have the possibility to be more diverse in their levels of integration? Isn’t the proposal for return to the EU’s drawing board an attempt to go back to the European Economic Community? For the UK it is a plausible solution, but it will not be for small post-socialist states that have just finished proving themselves and transforming in accordance with the acquis communautaire.

Thus, it can be concluded that David Cameron’s EU Speech outlines not only the current British position in the EU appealing to many domestic groups, but has created a state of intellectual flux in the EU in general. If not creating a new institutional crisis, then D. Cameron has officially started a discussion that could change the face of the EU in the coming years. Treaty changes and political and structural re-alignment of Britain are becoming interdependent variables. At the same time, the great power Britain currently seems to be differently predisposed towards the EU which in real numbers is dominated by small states.

Nevertheless, Cameron does not want to see the EU project to fail, he did not create and yet another need for immediate “Luxembourg compromise” as he provides other EU countries with the possibility to go on without the British objections, namely without Britain in the core of the EU. Moreover, David Cameron’s EU Speech had the proper timing and it provides the EU with the time so necessary for it to transform. Cameron provides a time frame and reduces the anxiety and immediate worries with his speech.

By giving the EU 3 to 4 years for getting its house in order, the Prime Minister of UK provides the decision makers with the possibility to have a quality discussion and manage the economic problems without additional worries for entrepreneurs and financial markets for growing institutional crisis in the European Union. Thus, at the very end David Cameron has just given a very responsible speech in regard to the domestic politics in the UK and the EU that could turn historic regardless of the decisions that will be made in the upcoming years.

[1] David Cameron’s EU Speech. – London: British Prime Minister’s Office. – 23.01.2013. -

[2] Rinkēvičs Agrees to Cameron’s Arguments about Common Market and Common EU policy (Rinkēvičs piekrīt Kamerona argumentiem par vienotu tirgu un kopēju ES politiku). – Originally BNS. - 23.01.2013. – see for instance,

[3] David Cameron’s EU Speech. – London: British Prime Minister’s Office. – 23.01.2013. -

Publicēts 01. februāris, 2013

Autors Kārlis Bukovskis