Governments around the European Union are readying themselves for a declaration from David Cameron, the British prime minister, on his ambitions to rewrite the UK's relationship with the EU.
Cameron announced on Sunday (6 January) that a speech “in mid-January” would set out his vision “very clearly”. He and his office have been promising – and postponing – a policy statement for a year, but this time postponement is unlikely, given the rising popularity of the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party, which is in turn fuelling calls for a referendum from the many members of Cameron's Conservative Party who are also hostile to the EU. Cameron himself wants the UK to remain within the EU.
Cameron indicated that a formal review of the balance of UK and EU competences will be completed only in 2014, but that he will already outline what powers the UK would like to repatriate, how he envisages the negotiating process, and what choice British voters would be offered in a referendum.
Eamon Gilmore, the foreign minister of Ireland, which holds the presidency of the EU's Council of Ministers, said on Tuesday (8 January) that the possibility of the UK leaving the EU is now a bigger threat to the EU than a Greek exit from the euro. Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, warned in an interview on 27 December that ‘cherry-picking' by member states could cause the EU to “unravel”.
The 40th anniversary over the New Year of the UK's accession to the then European Economic Community gave further impetus to the country's public debate, with calls for greater independence provoking warnings about negative consequences of disengagement. Yesterday (9 January), ten business leaders issued a public caution about the damage to the UK that would ensue from “wholesale renegotiation” of Britain's membership.