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This is the stuff of nightmares


Tuesday 15 January 2013

I have taken much comfort in recent weeks from a line sent out on Twitter by my friend Robert Cottrell: “Slept like a blog last night.”

Lately, my blog has been sleeping better than I have. I hesitated to wake it from its innocent, infant slumbers during the Christmas and New Year holidays, but recognise that we are now well into term-time.

I spent much of the holiday period in England, where most talk about the European Union contained speculation as to what Prime Minister David Cameron was going to say in a long-delayed speech on the subject. The newspapers and broadcasters kept referring to a “much-anticipated speech”, a description that initially irritated me, because there is a difference between “expect” and “anticipate” that was not being respected. (The Economist's style book puts it this way: “Anticipate does not mean expect. Jack and Jill expected to marry; if they anticipated marriage, only Jill might find herself expectant.” A Guardian guide, less flamboyantly, defines anticipate as “take action in anticipation of; not synonymous with expect”.)

My irritation, however, faded as the days passed, because, instead of just waiting for the speech, people did start anticipating it, giving pre-emptive warnings. Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, was among them.

Indeed, there have been so many anticipatory declarations, so many urgings and threats, that Cameron had to resort to the television and radio studios yesterday (14 January) to set out at least some of his thinking. And the speech itself, which has been delayed by the best part of a year, has now been brought forward to this Friday (18 January). Apparently, the British had only just noticed that the 22 January was full of 50th anniversary celebrations of the Elysée Treaty between France and Germany, which makes one wonder what the UK's foreign ministry is paid for. Or suspect that the prime minister's office has kept the foreign ministry out of the preparations.

Anyway, in a spirit of preparing, if not anticipating, Cameron's speech, I suggest that everyone looks up a copy of a speech about Europe given by William Hague, the foreign minister, in Berlin in October. That, if you like, is the base-line from which Cameron is starting. His challenge – both in domestic politics and in his relations with other EU member states – is to come up with something more, and (perhaps the trickier bit) something that he can deliver. He is awakening expectations. He may belatedly realise the wisdom of letting sleeping dogs – and blogs – lie.

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