David Cameron is to make a big speech on the EU tomorrow. The Times describes it as "one of his most important speeches since becoming Tory leader." He will, apparently...
"...signal the start of a new engagement by his party with Europe, reforming it from the inside so that it moves from uniformity to diversity and from being an inward-facing bureaucracy to an outward-facing association of states. It would be one which devotes its energies to matters such as global warming, world poverty and creating a dynamic economy."
We'll have to see what Mr Cameron proposes but I can't see the EU making any fundamental changes unless there is an iron will behind Mr Cameron's ambitions and some sort of threat of sanction if nothing changes. Conservatives all remember the way John Major started his premiership and the promise to be at "the heart of Europe". Douglas Hurd constantly reassured voters that Europe was coming Britain's way. We were all misled. David Cameron cut his political teeth at Norman Lamont's right hand. His experience of the ERM debacle has, apparently, made him a convinced Eurosceptic. We can only hope. He makes his speech alongside the Czech Prime Minister, Mirek Topolanek - his first ally in the Movement for European Reform (out of which a new MEPs' grouping will emerge). Mr Cameron will need a number of other allies if he is to be successful in forcing the EU to change and he's in a race against time as the opinion-formers of the new, more Eurosceptic member nations develop a taste for the Brussels gravy train.
The scale of the challenge ahead of the Conservative leader is obvious if you consider almost any aspect of the EU's record. Putting the EU in charge of green policies sounds logical given the environment's international nature but - given the EU's environmental record - it's a bit like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Dan Hannan MEP reminded readers of his blog of the EU's green record last week:
"This is the EU, let us remember, that has caused one of the greatest environmental calamities in Europe, namely the Common Agricultural Policy, whose output-based subsidies have encouraged the felling of hedgerows, the use of chemical fertilisers and the impoverishment of Third World producers. This is the EU that has destroyed what ought to have been a great renewable resource: North Sea fish stocks. And this is the EU whose Parliament peregrinates every month between Brussels and Strasbourg, with a fleet of carbon-emitting lorries to carry its gear, and with all its paperwork printed off separately at each end."
Europhiles are rushing to make climate change the justification for a major expansion of EU powers. David Miliband has spoken of renaming the EU as the Environmental Union. The danger in the process that Mr Cameron has begun is that he will get an EU that makes a lot more noise about being environmentally-friendly but the EU bureaucracy will get powers to levy green taxes and regulations to - supposedly - make it all happen. Eurosceptics (and those who believe that technological transfer to developing nations is going to solve environmental problems) will need to be very vigilant in Cameron's green EU.