January 25, 2013 1:21 am

Pitfalls on the path to Cameron’s EU objective

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From Mr Martin Vasey.

Sir, David Cameron clearly stated in his speech that he wants the EU to be a success and Britain to remain part of it. If he is to achieve his objective he must avoid certain pitfalls. First, he should avoid the use of threatening language in relation to our EU partners. Telling the other members of the club that we will leave unless they accept a range of unspecified demands is not the way to make friends and influence people, however much it may appeal to his eurosceptic backbenchers.

Second, he should avoid confusing the reform of the EU to make it more flexible, open and accountable, on which the UK may well find allies, with a list of additional opt-outs to accommodate British national interests, which might upset the balance of advantage between member states. There have already been indications that the Germans and French are open to a discussion of the issues raised by the British government but would strongly resist any attempt at cherry-picking by the UK.

Third, he must avoid allowing himself to be pushed into a corner by an over-rigid timetable. On past form, a treaty renegotiation can be expected to take two or three years at least. At present there is no consensus among the eurozone countries as to what treaty changes, if any, will be required by the prospective banking and fiscal union, without which it will be difficult to define the relationship between the eurozone core and the non-members, particularly as regards the single market. Indeed, there are so many unknowns about the development of the EU over the next few years that to commit to a referendum by the end of 2017 looks rather foolhardy.

Finally, if the prime minister really believes that he can succeed in negotiating a new settlement in Europe he will have to adopt a more positive tone in his public statements about the EU if he is to stand a chance of winning the promised referendum. He will have to make the case for Britain staying in Europe for the economic and political advantages that it brings, as he did on Wednesday. The repatriation of certain powers, assuming this can be negotiated, will not be enough. 

Martin Vasey, Storrington, W Sussex, UK

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