The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, presented a united front in Hamburg last night in a bid to persuade the British public to vote to remain within the European Union, and their fellow European leaders to back Mr Cameron’s reform agenda.
Speaking at the St Matthew’s Day banquet in Hamburg, Mr Cameron spoke of his determination to keep the UK within the EU, saying: “I never want us to pull up the drawbridge and retreat from the world.
“When it comes to the question of Britain’s future in Europe, my aim is clear: I want to keep Britain inside a reformed European Union.”
Mr Cameron has until this Friday to secure a deal with the other European Union heads of state on a package of reforms which he can sell to the British people as a reason for remaining within the EU. But he needs all 27 member states to back the proposed changes, and so far a number – including France’s François Hollande, Greece’s Alexis Tsipras, Romania’s Klaus Iohannis and the Czech premier, Bohuslav Sobotka – are showing signs of doubt.
In a bid to secure agreement, he has turned to his allies within the Union and in Germany, the member state which stands to lose the most if Britain leaves the bloc.
European council president Donald Tusk has already cleared his diary to hold pre-summit talks with some of the more intransigent leaders, including Hollande, Tsipras and Iohannis, while Ms Merkel gave a speech last night championing Mr Cameron’s reform agenda.
“Europe needs Great Britain and Great Britain needs Europe,” Ms Merkel told the assembled guests.
“I wish that the United Kingdom will in the future too remain an active member of a successful European Union,” she said, adding that it would be in German interests too.
The reforms that Cameron is seeking are not only in Britain’s interests, she insisted, adding: “Quite the opposite, when we can succeed in pouring these issues into a European mould, I think that Europe as a whole will gain.”
Mr Cameron also used his speech to continue with what critics are calling “Project Fear” – scare tactics designed to frighten the British people into voting to remain in the EU – by warning that membership of the bloc was vital for the fight against terrorism.
“In a world where people look at the threat of Islamist extremism and blame poverty or the foreign policy of the West, we need to say: no, it’s about an ideology that is hijacking Islam for its own barbaric purposes and poisoning the minds of young people,” he said.
“And just as Europe has faced down dangerous and murderous ideologies in the past, so again we must stand together in this, the struggle of our generation.
“We must confront this evil – and we must defeat it – standing together.”
In fact, military deployment and decisions on foreign intervention are some of the very few areas over which the EU does not – so far – have any competency.
This was confirmed in a 2013 government review of the balance of competencies between the UK and the EU on foreign policy matters, which stated: “The majority of the evidence affirmed that, in Common Foreign and Security Policy, and the Common Security and Defence Policy, the balance of competence lies squarely with the Member States.
“All significant decisions are made by unanimity, so each Member State has a power of veto, not least over the deployment of EU military operations and civilian missions. Each Member State also retains full sovereign control of its troops, civilian personnel and other security assets.
“No British personnel can be deployed in an EU mission unless the Government makes a deliberate decision to do so. The Member States can also act unilaterally, or via other international organisations, not least NATO, when they see fit.”