World / Europe

Cameron postpones speech

By Zhao Shengnan (China Daily) Updated: 2013-01-19 01:14

Britain could drift out of the European Union unless the bloc tackles its serious problems, British Prime Minister David Cameron had planned to say in a speech on Friday that was postponed due to the Algerian hostage crisis.

The long-awaited address, scheduled to be delivered in the Netherlands, was expected to outline how Cameron thinks Britain's relationship with the EU should change — a move that many fear could backfire and leave Britain increasingly isolated in Europe.

Analysts said the address, shaped by downward economic trends in Britain, may further marginalize the country instead of boosting its role in the bloc as expected.

Before the prime minister's speech was delayed so that he could focus on the hostage crisis, Cameron had been expected to outline how Britain would renegotiate ties with the 27-member group and to promise a rare referendum on any deal that he struck.

His Downing Street office said a "new date and venue" would be announced later.

According to extracts of his speech released by his office, Cameron had been planning to mention three major challenges facing the EU: the eurozone debt crisis, faltering competitiveness and declining public support, particularly in Britain.

"If we don't address these challenges, the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit," Cameron had been due to say.

The referendum is unlikely to be held since Britain has been benefiting from the single EU market of 500 million people, said Zhang Haibing, an economic studies expert with the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

The bloc is by far Britain's top trading partner, accounting for about half of its trade.

Britain's top goal is to confront rising anti-EU sentiment at home and seek a bigger share of influence in the bloc's reform process, which currently is dominated by Germany and France, said Zhang.

Cameron is under fierce pressure from the euroskeptics in his Conservative Party. Traditionally, the party has held Britain aloof from integrating with Europe while at the same time trying to carve out more sovereignty for Britain within the EU.

The right-wing trend has been highlighted by the country's sluggish economy, said Zhao Junjie, a specialist on European studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"But it is difficult for Britain to greatly improve its status in the EU because it does not have enough national strength, influence or 'good buddies' in the group now," he said.

"And it's shortsighted of Cameron to divert public dissatisfaction with domestic issues toward the EU. Playing internal politics could only backfire and increasingly isolate the country."

AP, Reuters and AFP contributed to this story.

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