Revisiting British Membership in the European Union

British Prime Minister David Cameron delivered his long awaited speech on the future of British membership in the European Union today. The full transcript of his speech is available on the BBC website.  The 38 minute speech is also available below.

In the speech, Cameron promises a referendum on British membership in the European Union if his Conservative Party wins reelection in 2015. The ballot, according to Cameron, will permit British voters the opportunity to choose between renegotiating British membership or complete British withdrawal.

Reaction to the speech was strong and quick. Germany warned that the United Kingdom could not “cherry pick” its membership criteria, while France asserted that an “a la carte” EU membership was not on the table. The United States has also weighed in on the debate, with President Obama last week asserting that, “he United States values a strong UK in a strong European Union.”  Obama’s preferences were reiterated by US Assistant Secretary for European Affairs, Philip Gordon, who today stated  “We have a growing relationship with the EU as an institution, which has an increasing voice in the world, and we want to see a strong British voice in that EU… That is in America’s interests. We welcome an outward-looking EU with Britain in it.”

The move, as we discussed last week,  appears to be a function more of domestic British politics than broader multilateral interests. Flanked on one side by nationalist parties in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland demanding greater devolution of political authority and on the other by British nationalists expressing a strongly Eurosceptic worldview, Cameron’s maneuver appears to have more to do with securing reelection of his party than developing a coherent policy towards Europe. Nevertheless, Cameron’s policy could have interesting implications for both British and European politics…even if we have to wait until 2015 to figure out exactly what those implications are.

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