First of all, happy new year to all our readers. We think this may turn into quite an interesting year from our point of view.
There is quite a lot of excitement in vacuum or vacuous excitement about what the Prime Minister might or might not say in his long-deferred speech about Britain and what is usually referred to in the media as Europe but is, in fact, the European Union, a political construct not a geographical or cultural concept.
Before we discuss what has been said recently about what might or might not be in that speech (and at present nobody outside the PM's office knows) or what the consequences will be, it is worth pointing out yet again a basic fact: talk about "our relationship with Europe or with the EU" is, not to put too fine a point on it, stuff and nonsense. We do not have a relationship with something we are a member of. Only if we come out and renegotiate all agreements do we start having a relationship.
Now that's out of the way, let us turn to what has been said recently and find out if any of it is of any relevance to real life and real people.
First off, we have an article in the Guardian, a newspaper that thinks being outside the EU is the equivalent of political perdition though rather a large number of countries seem to manage to survive and even flourish.
Cameron, we are told, promises that the people of Britain will have a real choice though we have to wait till his speech some time this month to find out whether that means an In/Out referendum. Does that mean he intends to come up with some policies with regards to our membership of the European Union and fight an election on those? That would be preferable to a plebiscite (the old-fashioned word for a referendum). Errm, maybe.
Asked whether that could involve the option of withdrawal, he said: "You will have to wait for the speech.
"But it will demonstrate very clearly that it is the Conservative party at the next election that will be offering people a real change in terms of Europe and a real choice about that change."
He conceded that any renegotiation would be tough but said it was not in Britain's national interest to withdraw and no longer be "round the table writing the rules".
In actual fact, we are not round the table and we do not write the rules as the messy situation with the Common Fisheries Policy shows very clearly. The rules are written by the Commission and decided by 27 member states, usually through qualified majority voting and Britain's views and interests are of little importance.
Anyway, we have little indication from those statements what exactly will be in the speech. One cannot help suspecting that the PM does not know either and his speech writers are flummoxed.
Meanwhile, Gideon Rachman proclaims in the Financial Times that, despite all the many problems and dissatisfactions, Britain, given a chance, would vote to stay in the European Union. Mr Rachman and the FT's optimistic predictions about the EU and the eurozone in the past were not such as to inspire great faith in his analysis but, as things stand, he is probably right. The referendum is likely to be called (if at all) after some cosmetic agreements of change just as it was in 1975. There will be a great deal of money spent on the in campaign beyond the allotted state funds and, above all, the message will be simple: fear. Our side has not lined up its arguments and is too busy squandering meagre resources and that must change. We must lay out clearly how we should get out of this noxious organization which we cannot reform as we have never been able to and what we shall do afterwards.
In the Daily Telegraph we get Daniel Hannan, a self-appointed spokesman for the mythical eurosceptic David Cameron as well as a Conservative though eurosceptic MEP, arguing that if we cannot do a deal with "Europe" we should get out. That's as far as he goes though he appears to think that the original idea of the EEC was a free market area. It was not. The idea was at all times a customs union with "ever closer union of the people".
Mr Hannan is convinced that Mr Cameron will come up with some very tough proposals and because the colleagues in Brussels will not like them he will have to go for an In/Out referendum and, indeed, campaign for out. There are many logical flaws in that chain of arguments.
At least this article mentions fisheries.
Let’s start with the easy bits. Britain has already announced its intention to opt out of common policies in the field of justice and home affairs. It is almost as straightforward to pull out of joint defence and foreign policy structures.
Leaving the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), and asserting our jurisdiction out to 200 miles or the median line, is tougher, but not unprecedented: until a decade ago, the CFP didn’t apply to the Mediterranean. As for the Common Agricultural Policy, the shift from guaranteed prices to direct support makes repatriation increasingly feasible.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Not only is Britain not opting out of any common justice and home affairs policies, it is busy opting in wherever there had been an opt-out negotiated.
In fact, pulling out of the CFP would be the easiest and most popular thing to do. In fact, that was the premiss of a paper produced some years ago by the then Shadow Fisheries Minister, Owen Paterson, which was adopted by Michael Howard, the then Leader of the Conservative Party as electoral policy.
What happened to it? Well, Mr Howard lost the election and resigned. His successor, a certain David Cameron, discarded that policy almost as his first act as Leader. For some reason, Mr Hannan does not mention this.