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.
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).