The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Harry Cooper Headshot

Why Cameron's Strategy Is Unlikely to Succeed

Posted: Updated:

Cameron's much-trailed speech, the build up for which he described as akin to tantric sex, has left me feeling more like a neglected wife than a satisfied lover.

And if Cameron was hoping to unleash a deluge of orgiastic pleasure across the rest of the EU, France and Germany, i.e. the most influential Member States, have been quick to pour cold water on him (and us). "No" is, in effect, what both governments said within hours of him climaxing.

The reaction of many Europeans to Cameron's rallying cry to reform the EU is indicative of why his strategy to renegotiate is doomed. At a very simple level, that most of us learn from a very young age, is that you need two sides to start a negotiation. As far as I can tell, the only Member State who wants to begin this 'grand debate' is the UK, which may make negotiation a bit tricky.

It was almost painful to hear him reference the Dutch government's review of EU competences, the fact that so many Member States are outside of the eurozone and Angela Merkel's much quoted line about Europe's generous welfare state. These examples may be real, but they do not reflect the fact these countries share Cameron's ideas about what the EU should be morphing into.

His tone seemed at times threatening, that if Europe doesn't change, the UK will leave. At others it was arrogant, that it was the UK that rescued Europe from itself. He emphasised our differences and put down the approach other European states have towards managing their own economies. This was not a speech aimed at his counterparts elsewhere in the EU, but at his backbenches and those voters tempted by Ukip's populist rhetoric.

Ironically if you strip away the surface rhetoric, there was a lot of good in his speech. The EU is indeed stuttering economically, facing a future of steady decline, in the face of a global rebalancing to the emerging markets of the east and the south. The EU is perceived to be out of touch, undemocratic and unaccountable to the people. And the moves to create a political union in the eurozone have serious implications for the rest of the EU. He tackles a lot of the concerns that people across Europe, not just in the UK, feel about the entity they belong to but don't understand.

Despite this, Cameron's medicine will not go down well. His goal of turning the EU into nothing more than a giant shopping centre runs up against the fact that for many Europeans, the project is far grander. A flexible Europe which stops meddling in the internal affairs of its member states may make sense to the Brits, but not others.

He acknowledged this is in the first part of his speech, reflecting on the fact that the foundations of the EU had been put in place to avoid the continent ever sinking into war again. He claimed the EU was about securing peace, but that now it is about securing prosperity.

However I think it's fair to say that peace and prosperity are two sides of the same coin; one complements and reinforces the other. And this belies the fact that the vast majority of the European political establishment are committed to an EU that is not just an economic union but a political one.

The EU is not a standalone entity that sits above us like a federal government, but rather is the outcome of a group of sovereign countries agreeing to coordinate and cooperate in specific policy areas. Cameron's vision may more economically and politically sustainable in the long run, but that is irrelevant if it is not supported by other member states.

Whether or not the federal project is at serious risk of failure, as many sceptics legitimately argue, the view of Europe laid out by Cameron in his speech is not one shared by the people he plans to negotiate with. That is why he will not get his deal and that is why we will probably have an in/out referendum in 2017, assuming the Tories don't lose the next election.

At that point, we will either vote to stay in, endorsing the EU as it stands, or we vote for uncertainty outside the single market. Neither option is good.