Today Conservative leader David Cameron gave a speech on Europe. It was billed as his vision for a better EU with the UK in it, but the reality was somewhat different.
First and foremost this was a speech aimed at placating Tory Eurosceptics and a vague attempt to counter the threat of UKIP. More an exercise in political positioning than a long term vision for the UK.
Secondly, the promise of a referendum in 2017 guarantees a climate of business uncertainty, which threatens the UK's economic recovery. If you were an international company seeking a base in Europe to access the single market, you would now think twice about investing in the UK. That's not good for the country and not good for Yorkshire either.
Thirdly, Mr Cameron contradicted himself numerous times in his speech leading the listener to be confused as to his position. For example, he said "nations must work together to tackle terrorism and organised crime" yet, he proposes that the UK opt out of EU cooperation in this area. Mr Cameron went on to acknowledge that "the single market needs to be governed by a common set of enforceable rules", while also saying "it's a fallacy that the single market requires harmonisation".
In addition, Mr Cameron showed his ignorance of how the EU works when noting that "competitiveness in the single market is so essential that there should be a single market Council". Well actually, there is a Council formation* dedicated to the Single Market called the "Competiveness Council", but the Prime Minister appears not to know this. The contradictions and lack of knowledge in Mr Cameron's speech makes one wonder if anyone in the Tory party understands the EU at all.
The EU is not perfect and needs reform in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century including developing a competitive and sustainable EU economy, tackling climate change and fighting cross-border crime. Mr Cameron did correctly identify the need to improve EU decision making processes so that ordinary Europeans have more of a say. Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament are and have been leading advocates for such reform.
The question is how best can reform be achieved? Should we work together with our EU partners to find common solutions to common problems, or do we stand alone demanding a unilateral renegotiation so the UK can cherry pick its involvement in the EU? What is to stop 27 EU countries demanding the same à la carte approach? Would this end up with the kind of reformed better functioning European Union that Mr Cameron claims to want? I doubt that very much.
* The Council is shorthand for meetings of ministers from the 27 EU countries, so the Health Council is a meeting of the 27 Health Ministers, the Justice and Home Affairs Council is a meeting of 27 Justice Ministers etc etc