You will of course be aware that David Cameron, our Prime Minister, delivered a major speech on Europe in London on 23 January. It has received a lot of coverage in the Polish media and Foreign Minister Sikorski commented on it on 24 January.
The speech is a very clear commitment to keeping the UK in the EU, at the heart of the Single Market, and to maintaining our influence by being at the forefront of EU action on energy, climate change, development, foreign policy and other global challenges. It specifically rejects the notion that the UK would be better off with a relationship to the EU similar to that of Norway and Switzerland. The Prime Minister agrees with our friends inside and outside the Union that the EU would be weaker without the UK and the speech signals his intention to take the argument for British membership of a reformed EU to the British people.
The speech is also an honest assessment of the challenges that all of us in Europe face, including here in Poland. Specifically, the challenges of the Eurozone crisis and the changes it is driving in Europe, competitiveness in the face of a transformed global economy, and the gap between Europe and its peoples.
David Cameron proposes five principles for reform to overcome these challenges:
- Competitiveness: a serious effort to deepen the Single Market, cut red tape, open up trade and reform the EU’s institutions;
- Flexibility: embracing the EU’s diversity, rather than insisting on one size fits all. He has offered some initial ideas on what that means. But we recognise that we are at the beginning of that debate, not the end;
- Power must be able to flow back to Member States, as promised at the European Council in Laeken as far back as 2001: we should examine both what the EU should do and what it should stop doing;
- Democratic accountability: there has to be a bigger role for national parliaments;
- Fairness: the changes brought by the Eurozone crisis must not undermine the integrity of the Single Market.
These are far-reaching and complex issues for Britain and the EU. But this speech shows that we are engaging with our EU partners, including Poland. The Government is committed to help shape the future of an open, flexible and adaptable European Union, to achieve not just a better deal for Britain, but a better deal for Europe too.
The EU already has areas where some Member States take part and others do not, such as the Eurozone and Schengen. Of course, the Single Market needs a common set of rules and ways of enforcing them. But it makes no sense to insist that one size fits all across 27 Member States.
Here, we are already actively working together with Poland on a really ambitious agenda, which includes completing the Single Market and Digital Single Market, the EU growth agenda, deregulation, Common Foreign and Security Policy, Energy including shale gas and civil nuclear, EU enlargement and increasing bilateral trade and investment.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that, as leader of his Party, he will seek a mandate at the 2015 election to negotiate a new EU settlement, and then hold a referendum with an in/out choice between staying in the EU on the new terms, or exit. He is confident that he will able to negotiate the right reforms and win such a referendum to stay in. As party leader, he argues that “refusing to contemplate consulting the British people, would… “make more likely our eventual exit.”
David Cameron has deliberately not spelt out in depth at this stage what reforms he would seek, but his assumption is that there will be a Treaty negotiation in the next few years and that the UK will bring these issues to the table. The ongoing Balance of Competences review in the UK will inform his approach.
We at the Embassy look forward to participating both in the debate on the future of Europe and to continuing to work together in fruitful partnerships with the Polish Government and civil society to achieve our common goals.