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Cameron's EU Speech: Who Cares?

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So David Cameron is finally making his long-awaited speech on Europe. But who really cares? Well, some diplomats and EU officials that I have spoken to in Brussels and a few of my friends from other EU nations are interested, but the majority most definitely don't care as much as the Westminster bubble. And they are certainly not concerned or worried by what Cameron might say in the Netherlands. It is also questionable whether the great British public really care either.
Having spent ten years in the EU arena and now recently relocated to London, I find the whole media and domestic political frenzy around this speech to be simply a case of self-posturing, naval-gazing by the UK prime minister.

Nothing is going to change in Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Rome or Dublin on Monday morning as a result of this over-hyped speech. The EU juggernaut - love it or loathe it - will motor on. Ever since Thatcher and even during the pro-EU Blair years, the UK has always been on the margins. Or at least the perception has always been that Britain never fully embraced or integrated into the European Union project. Put simply, the home of Euroscepticism has always been viewed by its EU peers as either a spoilt child or a troublemaker with its opt-outs, rebate rows, dumbing down of EU foreign policy and cherry-picking of EU legislation.

"The UK has always wanted the benefits of EU membership, but without the rules and responsibilities," as one ambassador put it to me. So whatever Cameron says or threatens in his speech will not come as any real surprise across the EU.

But talk of a referendum on membership of the EU will affect the UK in terms of business as highlighted by the recent letter from UK business leaders on the benefits of remaining in the EU. By exiting, UK industry risks losing the full benefits of the EU's internal market. They will always have access to the EU's 500 million consumers since British trade and industry is important to many of the countries in the EU, but that access could come with a price should Britain leave the EU in the future. But leaving the EU will also not have any effect in real terms on the UK's relationships with non-EU nations, despite the weekend rhetoric from Washington's European envoy. Of course most countries such as the United States, China and India support EU membership because dealing with Brussels instead of 27 individual countries makes their life easier and is more attractive in terms of negotiating trade deals. But as the Chinese ambassador to the UK said this week: "Whether the UK is in or out of the EU does not affect the relationship between Beijing and London in the short to medium term. Certainly not on a daily basis. We have many individual relationships such as with Germany and France which are not predetermined by EU membership."

So the diplomatic and political elite around the globe will watch the speech with some interest on Friday, the UK media will scramble to the Netherlands and Brussels will take note, but the reality is that Mali, Algeria, Syria, the eurozone crisis and the world economy is much more important to global geopolitics than anything David Cameron says about Britain's future relationship with the EU.