David Cameron has to walk two tightropes on Europe, and at the same time too. The first is to negotiate a deal with other European leaders that satisfies the bulk of his Euro-sceptic party. If this was not difficult enough, simultaneously Cameron has to show voters that the European question isn’t consuming all of his government’s energies. For despite its importance, it still rankles relatively low on the public’s list of priorities.
To address the latter point, I’m told that Cameron will make a major domestic policy announcement in the week of every EU summit in an effort to show that he is not taking his eyes off the home front. Indeed, after last week’s tour of Europe, Cameron will return to bread and butter issues tomorrow with an event to promote the government’s offer of 30 hours free childcare a week for the parents of three and four year-olds.
As for the renegotiation rollercoaster, the initial signs are relatively encouraging for Cameron. Angela Merkel, the most powerful leader in the EU, was clearly receptive to his plans.
But it would be a historic mistake for Cameron to rush this renegotiation. Time is on the side of reform and the EU may well look very different once the Greek crisis has played itself out. So, Cameron shouldn’t sprint for a 2016 finish line or anything like that. Instead, he should play this renegotiation as long as he can.