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European Ties

'The most hyped up speech for ages'

UK Prime Minister David Cameron is set to give his long-awaited "Europe" speech on Wednesday. There is still a frenzy of anticipation surrounding it. Will people's expectations inevitably be dashed?

On Friday (18.01.2013) David Cameron was supposed to have been given us his vision of the future of the European Union. The speech was postponed because of the Algerian hostage-taking crisis, but it's been surrounded by an almost feverish level of anticipation, which was compounded by the fact that for a long time it was unclear when and where the speech would be made. Officials had to alter their plans again this week when it emerged they had inadvertently scheduled it to coincide with the anniversary marking 50 years of Franco-German friendship - which may not have created the best headlines for the Brits.

The speech was to have been delivered in the Netherlands in front of an audience of business people and EU diplomats. Whenever it actually comes, across the continent many people will be listening closely to what he has to say.

"This has been one of the most hyped up speeches for ages and there's a distinct danger that it's going to prove underwhelming to an awful lot of people when he actually comes up with what he's going to say," said Tim Loughton, British Conservative parliamentarian. On Wednesday, Loughton and other lawmakers published a manifesto outlining their vision for Europe's future.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, left, speaks with Finland's Prime Minister Jyrki Tapani Katainen, right, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, second right, during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. (Foto:Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP/dapd)

European leaders will be watching developments closely

The so-called Fresh Start Project sets out a new relationship for Britain within the EU. It's said to include "well-researched" practical proposals which are backed by many within the ruling Conservative party - it would also require treaty revision.

"I think what [Cameron] needs to articulate is a determination that we are going negotiate a new relationship with Europe and one which the vast majority of the British people can feel comfortable with and that the status-quo is no longer available," Loughton told DW.

A new vision for Europe?

Mats Persson will also be listening closely on Friday. He's director of Open Europe, a London-based think tank calling for debate about and reform of the European Union. He explains that the Prime Minister's speech will in some way define "Britain's future place in Europe."

As far as content goes, Persson hopes that the tone of the speech will offer a "new vision" of Britain's role in the EU "in a language that works for all member states, rather than being British-specific."

"I think he's trying to target that big, silent majority, both within his own party and amongst the public who realize that we need to be in Europe, we need to be in the EU, but we want a new relationship, we want a relationship that better suits Britain," Persson told DW.

Falkland Islands - The Union Jack flies over Ajax Bay in 1982. (AP Photo/Archiv)

Will Britain be going it alone?

But Cameron has to tread a fine line between appeasing those at home and making sure that he doesn't promise anything which other European leaders are unlikely to concede, particularly when it comes to altering treaties which affect all 27 (soon to be 28) EU member states.

"A lot of it comes down to language," said Mats Persson. "If he stays clear of some of these phrases that make Europeans nervous, such as 'repatriation', 'pick and choose', 'wholesale renegotiation' … I think at least he can provide some reassurance to European partners that the UK is about making Europe work better as well."

Referendum expected

It's also expected that Cameron will outline plans for a future referendum on Britain's relationship with the EU.

"Certainly within the Tory party there's so much political momentum for a referendum that that's the most likely outcome," Persson acknowledged.

However, it is unlikely to be the clear "in/out" referendum that hardline euroskeptics are calling for. Rather it's more likely to be the kind of referendum which Cameron has often hinted at in the past, namely seeking "fresh consent" from voters on a "renegotiation" of Britain's role in Europe.

Conservative politician Tim Loughton supports the idea of a referendum:

"My own view is that if we are to be serious about a renegotiation, in order to give it teeth the Prime Minister needs to be able to say that we would go to a referendum if we didn't get a satisfactory renegotiation. I think for our European partners to take us seriously they need to know that the status quo cannot continue."

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