Mr Cameron’s renegotiation of the U.K’s EU membership terms seems unstuck. His four demands have met with varied response from his EU partners, some rejected outright even, setting the scene for a fairly unpredictable outcome.
Mr Cameron’s shopping basket has been reduced to the basics. His demands range from the symbolic, like scraping the ambition for «an ever closer union» from the Treaty, to the unacceptable, like discriminating against EU citizens exercising the right to free movement. In between are two proposals, putting emphasis on competitiveness and deregulation and safeguarding the rights of non-eurozone countries, that seem deliverable.
The problem for Mr Cameron is that he has to persuade a very varied audience. On the one hand his EU partners, who remain at large in favour of keeping Britain in the EU but are gradually more and more concerned about the price they will have to pay.
On the other hand, his eurosceptic party, many of whom (even members of his own Cabinet) are keen to see Britain leave the EU but mistrust Mr Cameron’s eurosceptic credentials.
In between them stand the British electorate, instinctively mistrustful of the EU, after decades of euromyths and lies in the tabloid press and hostile rhetoric by their political leaders, but at the same time increasingly aware of the true cost of a British exit from the club.
The above make for a complicated landscape that Mr Cameron needs to navigate. He needs to deliver a meaningful renegotiation, enough to satisfy his eurosceptic party and present him to the British electorate as triumphant in his effort to reform the EU and at the same time keep his EU partners assured that his reform efforts aim at improving the EU, not derail the whole project.
No mean fit, one could argue, and the stakes are high. Because a British exit would have damaging consequences for Britain but it will also represent a significant blow to the EU.
If the UK was to leave the EU, it would find itself at the margins (at best) of the biggest single market in the world, a medium-sized power, adrift in the Atlantic, caught in the headings of the EU and the US economies, unable to influence the forces that shape its destiny.
But the EU would not be left unaffected either from such a divorce. Losing one of its biggest members, albeit an awkward one most of the time, would send the the wrong signal, both to those nationalist and isolationist forces within our continent but also to its global partners.
So, Mr Cameron’s ability to square the circle, so to say, will determine whether Britain will remain a member of the EU and the direction the EU will take in the near future.
His renegotiation is a big gable that will define his premiership as well as mark the destiny of his country and the continent it is part of.