Commentators' verdicts on David Cameron's EU speech

A generic picture of UK newspapers

Commentators have delivered their verdicts on the prime minister's speech and strategy. Here is a round-up:

Writing in the Daily Mail Sir Max Hastings described it as "almost certainly" the best speech of Mr Cameron's life, "delivered with a passion so often missing from his performances".

"He fulfilled the foremost duty of a prime minister by articulating every anxiety felt by his people about Europe."

Also in the Daily Mail, Simon Heffer - who has previously been strongly critical of Mr Cameron - counts the ways in which the PM "outfoxed his foes".

In the Daily Telegraph, Benedict Brogan says the speech has "markedly improved" the Conservatives' chances of winning the next general election: "UKIP, which posed a nuisance threat to the Tories, is sidelined."

Poker game

But the Independent's Steve Richards puts the contrary view: "His historic speech makes it less, rather than more, likely that he will be prime minister after the next election.

The view from elsewhere in the EU

Newspapers in Italy say that Mr Cameron has "married the Eurosceptics", calling his plans to renegotiate the terms of British EU membership and hold an in/out referendum a "credible threat of divorce".

The Spanish press also sees the speech as anti-European and adds that the UK just wants to use the EU as a "mere free trade area".

French commentators accuse the UK of "pointing a gun" at the continent's common future.

German analysts, however, point out that although "irritating", Mr Cameron's ideas should not be dismissed, as the EU can no longer avoid a difficult debate on its future.

"The unravelling will take many forms and will happen quite quickly. Cameron did not specify what precisely he would seek to renegotiate. His broad arguments suggest a renegotiation so fundamental that, if miraculously successful, the UK would be part of a reformed single market and little else."

The New York Times' John F. Burns says: "Prime Minister David Cameron had essentially reset the tables for what has the makings of a giant political poker game - for himself, Britain, Europe and his Conservative Party."

The Daily Telegraph's James Kirkup predicts that the negotiations will "last for many years and it will not always be easy", and their outcome "will likely decide both his political fate and Britain's place in Europe".

Timothy Garton Ash writes, in The Guardian, that "five years of anxious uncertainty" over the UK's position in the EU will now ensue.

"Some of the good reforms Cameron is preaching at continental Europeans are now even less likely to happen since, whatever he says, our partners all feel that he is batting for Britain not for Europe."

But the speech "could have been a lot worse", he concedes.

'Tragic'

The Wall Street Journal's Cassell Bryan-Low says: "Mr Cameron has given the rest of Europe another time-consuming problem to solve on top of the Continent's already long list of concerns."

The Economist's Blighty blogger characterises the response from the UK's fellow EU member states as one of "bafflement".

"The notion of outright, near-unilateral demands - a 'shopping list' is the term used by the London press - is about as far removed from the agenda in Paris, Berlin and Brussels as it is possible to be. Yet it lies at the heart of Mr Cameron's plan to keep Britain in the EU.

"Small wonder, then, that the plan looks shaky."

EU leaders are "scratching their heads" trying to work out what the government hopes to achieve, writes Jean-Jacques Mevel from the French daily Le Figaro.

The Guardian's Martin Kettle describes the speech as "tragic": "Cameron's speech was not brave. It was reckless."

He explains: "Wednesday marks the moment when Cameron's pragmatic centre-right political project finally bent the knee to the ideological fantasy about Europe that still grips the Tory party.

"It was a step back towards a past from which Cameron once promised to lead his party."

'Resignation, effective 2017'

In The Times Matthew Parris says the prime minister earned 8/10 for eloquence and strategy but 10 out of 10 for caution. Parris says Cameron is effectively offering the same promise Harold Wilson made in 1974, but is buying himself more time with it.

Also in The Times, former Labour foreign secretary and SDP leader David Owen, calls it the speech of a "party leader, not a prime minister - it contains not one single idea and is all about British exceptionalism". He says restructuring the single market must not be delayed and says Ed Miliband "has an opportunity to show that Labour can best protect this country's interests".

Back in the Daily Telegraph Peter Oborne says that Mr Cameron may have been forced into a decision that will tear apart the Conservative party: "The British government will set out its key objectives for negotiations.

"Some of these will be met in part, but the majority will not be met at all. Prime Minister Cameron, who fundamentally does not like to rock the boat, will present these European concessions to the British people as a victory and lead the Yes campaign.

"But many ministers and others will disagree... The long-term effect of this - as with Labour in the Seventies - will be a formal Conservative split."

Daily Telegraph blogger Dan Hodges argues that, by making the referendum pledge, Mr Cameron had "announced his resignation as prime minister, effective May 2017".

"Either he wins it, in which case a large section of his membership, his backbenchers and several members of his cabinet would regard him as the traitor who had scuppered their dreams of a Euro-exit and would move against him, making the Tory party totally ungovernable.

"Or he loses, his great Euro gamble will have failed catastrophically, and his premiership crumbles to dust."

'Farewell, Britannia!'

Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror's Kevin Maguire questions the motives behind "clodhopper David Cameron's hokey-cokey on Europe".

"The prime minister's in-out after shaking it all about for five years is all about saving his own skin. He suddenly poses as a European rebel in No 10 to put his party's interests before the national interest."

For French paper Le Monde, Marc Roche accuses Mr Cameron of remaining "vague" about the "fundamental point" of what would happen if France and Germany refuse to meet his demands.

The PM also declined to respond to a question about whether he wanted to go down in history as the prime minister who brought the UK out of the EU, according to Libération's Sonia Delesalle-Stolper.

Die Welt's Stefanie Bolt and Tina Kaiser ask whether the EU can continue without the UK, and vice versa: "The clear answer to both questions is yes."

Chrsitoph Prantner, a writer for Austrian paper Der Standard finds both pro- and anti-EU ("EU-freundlich und EU-feindlich") messages in the speech.

He concludes that, if the UK is still unsure whether continued membership of the EU was in its national interest, Europe should say: "Farewell, Britannia!"

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