By Martin Banks - 21st January 2013
Cameron is walking our economic recovery on to very thin ice
Senior MEP Graham Watson has joined the different interests jockeying to influence the delayed speech on Europe by UK prime minister David Cameron.
Watson, former leader of the ALDE group, has told Cameron "to listen to the business community and security experts, not his own nationalist eurosceptic MPs".
His speech in The Hague was delayed by the Algerian hostage crisis but is now expected to go ahead later this week.
In it, Cameron is expected to offer a referendum on any new settlement he manages to hammer out to change Britain's four-decade-old links with the EU, probably in 2018.
His prospects of success are uncertain, however, as there is unease in some EU member states, notably Germany and France, about Cameron's plans.
A recent UK opinion poll by YouGov/Sunday Times revealed that by a 40 per cent to nine per cent margin, respondents thought that the UK would have less influence in the world if it left the EU.
This was a point partly highlighted by Watson, now president of the pan-European Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
The UK Liberal said, "When people pay their taxes, they expect their government to do three things: keep them safe, protect their jobs and provide them with care when they get sick. Cameron risks undermining two of these basic pillars in just one speech."
"One in 10 UK jobs are dependent on our trade with and membership of the European single market.
"The job losses at the Honda plant in my constituency in Swindon this week illustrate this only too well. The UK's trade with Europe is one of the cornerstones of our economy - our destinies are tightly bound together."
"Cameron is walking our economic recovery on to very thin ice."
On the potential opt-out of EU justice and home affairs policies, Watson, who piloted the European arrest warrant through parliament over 10 years ago, added, "Any security expert will tell you that we have to work together across borders to tackle serious crime, such as illicit drugs, human trafficking or international paedophile rings.
"If we don't, we risk becoming a safe haven for criminals. Instead of the Costa del Crime in Spain, it will be Crimeshire in the UK."
"If we are to properly tackle the global challenges our governments face, such as climate change, international organised crime or the rise of China, India and Brazil, we need to work together with our European partners."
However, UKIP leader Nigel Farage has repeated his call for a referendum on UK membership.
Speaking on BBC on Sunday, he said, "I'm pleased to say that in Britain, there is a proper European debate that's starting, driven I suspect by the rise of UKIP in the polls."
The eurozone crisis, he said, had highlighted the "failings" of the EU, saying, "I don't think we should be kidding anybody because the fundamentals haven't changed.
"In fact, things deteriorated in 2012 substantially; unemployment has soared, particularly in the Mediterranean countries, with youth unemployment now up to 58 per cent in two of those countries.
"Manufacturing in both the north and south of the eurozone is eroding with every single month that goes by, and the levels of human suffering that we're seeing. With pensions having been cut back, with soup kitchens growing all over the place and with people in despair, the prospects for 2013, and particularly for the Mediterranean, are that it will be worse still."
Farage added, "And yet the commission from its ivory tower is saying is 'Let them eat cake'. It is showing that the European political class are out of touch, uncaring and simply plain wrong."
Meanwhile, further pressure was piled on Cameron ahead of his speech when a group representing about a third of MPs in the ruling Conservative party last week published a "manifesto for change" which lists areas where they want decision making brought back to London.
"The status quo in the EU is no longer an option," the group's manifesto said. "The eurozone is facing up to the inevitable consequences of the financial crisis, and is moving towards fiscal and banking union. This is not a path that the British people will go down."
"We also want to protect British sovereignty, ensuring that the British parliament can decide what is best for Britain. We do not share the vision of 'ever closer union' as set out in the EU treaties."
William Hague, Britain's foreign minister, endorsed the MPs' manifesto in a fulsome foreword to the document, saying some of the proposals "could well become future government or Conservative party policy".
In a parliamentary debate last Wednesday, Ed Miliband, leader of Britain's opposition Labour party, accused Cameron of damaging the country's image as a good place to invest.
"His position appears to be this: an in/out referendum would be destabilising, but promising one in five years' time is just fine for the country," he told parliament.
Prominent business leaders and EU leaders have also told Cameron not to damage ties with the EU, Britain's biggest trading partner, with France in particular appearing anxious about Cameron's EU policies.
"It's up to the British to say what they want to do," said the French Europe minister Bernard Cazeneuve, adding, "It is not in the interests of the single market to see the British leave. And the British know very well it is not in their interest to leave the single market."
Finnish prime minister Jyrki Katainen has also waded into the debate, saying he expected Britain to remain inside the EU. "The EU without Britain is pretty much the same as fish without chips. It's not a meal anymore," he said.
UK centre right MEP Sajjad Karim, meanwhile, said, "Before any referendum is held, the British people need to be fully informed and aware of exactly what they will be voting for and just how it will affect our lives.
"In some quarters there is a push to make this a simple in/out issue. If only real life was so simple. The issue is fiendishly complex and requires a look at the bigger picture. Is it really a responsible attitude to argue that we will isolate ourselves from our largest trading bloc and our geographical neighbours… and be damned of the consequences?
"The EU is changing and the UK's relationship with the EU needs to change with it.
"I fully support Cameron when he says that he wants a fresh settlement with Europe but our Conservative led government need to be very specific about the review and reform agenda before any referendum."