Published on 16 Jan 2013

Ken Clarke’s on board; the Dutch sound nervous

Am in snowy Netherlands to see what sort of a reception David Cameron can expect for that speech. The European affairs spokesman for Premier Mark Rutte’s VVD Party, Mark Verheijen, says there’s no support here for British opt-outs. He also confirmed that the Dutch PM told him he knew nothing about the impending speech when the stories first circulated about it last week.

On the positive side for David Cameron, he’s averted one danger this week: Ken Clarke is clearly not walking out over the Europe speech. He read it on Monday and spoke to the FT for this morning’s paper. Maybe it’s a measure of how little chance he thinks David Cameron has of winning outright in 2015 and getting that referendum but it’s probably also a measure of how much the speech itself tilts towards the EU heads of government and tries not to frighten the chancelleries of Europe. One report of the speech suggests that it is remarkably unambitious in terms of what it really hopes to get back in powers but dresses it all up as a major renegotiation.

As Ed Miliband suggested in PMQs, what the speech won’t be is what David Cameron desperately wants it to be: the last word for some time on the subject. The PM wants the political focus on the “global race” theme, education and welfare reform. It’ll be a measure of the success of the “big speech” strategy if he achieves anything of the sort. The beginning of the week looked like a bad omen to some Tory MPs as they watched David Cameron upstaging the single pension announcement as he gave interviews trying to wrestle back the European agenda ahead of his speech.

Read more: Cameron and Miliband trade blows over Europe

It looks like David Cameron will indicate that he wants to repatriate workers’ rights from Brussels, just as the Fresh Start Group demands today, get bigger opt outs from EU justice than previously advertised and protections for the UK on EU financial regulations. But you could hear him sell this in Amsterdam as “leading reform” in the EU, not setting fire to Europe. That’s certainly what Dutch politicians say he must do if he’s to avoid a panning from Europe.

The FT points out today what’s become clear at the last few EU Council meetings: that the Germans have gone distinctly cool on the whole idea of a new treaty to solidify closer Eurozone union. That though is the premise on which David Cameron spotted an opening to hold the 17 hostage/put some reformist ideas on the table* (*delete as applicable).

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4 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:

    Gary,

    I loved this bit: “It looks like David Cameron will indicate that he wants to repatriate workers’ rights from Brussels…”

    I bet he does. Then he and his spiv ex public school chums can abolish them altogether.

    As for Tubby Ken Clarke……….Oh PLEASE……That old reactionary barrow boy can’t cross the road without a helping hand.

  2. John says:

    After all the posturing we will think back to the sudden reappearance after two years silence of Dave Milliband , once in the Commons and today’s interview with Cathy Newman..
    What’s he up to ?.

    The EU thing is going to be kicked down the road – so let us concentrate on What D.M. is doing.

  3. Ray Turner says:

    I suspect that the euro-bashing will do the Tories no harm whatsoever in the eyes of the electorate, come 2015…

    But its slightly disturbing (if true) that the Tories want to repatriate workers rights from Brussels. That’s one area where Brussels might actually be doing British people a favour. The Tories and their business-leader chums would have us all working 24 hours a day for no money if they thought they could get away with it…

    It’ll be interesting to watch this develop over the next few years, but I can see that there might be circumstances where I would vote against any renegotiated treaty, because it would potentially allow the Tories to do some things that I would find unacceptable.

    I wonder if the British public will eventually be presented with a “better the devil you know” situation and will have to vote for the status quo, to stay within the EU, with the implication that we have to integrate more closely…?

    Would certainly be an interesting tactic, if any leader wanted to kill off the persistent calls for a referendum and nobble the anti-EU lobby here in the UK (and within their own party) once and for all…

  4. sue_m says:

    Cameron says he wants to keep the ‘common market’ and do what is best for the people of Britain. But what he actually wants is for the UK govt (ie his govt ) to have the power to reduce workers rights by bringing employment laws and justice issues back within his grasp.
    That will neither support a common market – which requires a level playing field for employment terms – nor be best for British people who need protection from greedy employers.
    If Cameron was interested in improving the way the EU works for Britain he would be working with them to reduce bureaucracy and cost which would benefit all member states. He is really just trying to help his chums in the city again by ensuring more British workers work for peanuts in insecure jobs. Probably boost exports and corporate profits in the short term but ensures a lifetime of scraping by on the poverty line for many in the long term.

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