Academic journal article Romanian Journal of European Affairs

The Same Ol' Story.Or Not? Patterns of (Dis)continuity in David Cameron's European Policy

Academic journal article Romanian Journal of European Affairs

The Same Ol' Story.Or Not? Patterns of (Dis)continuity in David Cameron's European Policy

Article excerpt


United Kingdom's (UK) involvement in the European integration project has always been problematic, with the country being long-term dubbed as a "troubledpartner" and "reluctant European" (Diez, 2001: 7; Menon, 1998). Yet, it was, ultimately, under the premiership of the former Prime Minister David Cameron (2010-2016) that the mutual relationship took a dramatic turn. In 2013 Cameron made a commitment to renegotiate a better settlement for the UK's membership in the EU and hold an in/out EU referendum, should the Conservative Party win the 2015 general election. What followed was the momentous decision of 23 June 2016, which saw the British citizens' vote in favour of quitting the EU. In the wake of the referendum results, Cameron resigned and in March 2017 his successor Theresa May triggered Article 50 of Lisbon Treaty, thereby officially launching the formal process of withdrawal. With its profound implications, Brexit is "set to be the defining issue for Britain and one of the most unique challenges to ever face the EU" (Oliver and Booth, 2017).

Arguably, David Cameron has placed a more substantive imprint upon the British relationship with the EU than any previous British Prime Minister since the UK joined the European Community in 1973, plunging UK's position in Europe into the greatest uncertainty in a generation. For Byrne, Randall and Theakson, Cameron bore responsibility "for initiating the referendum, for failing to manage expectations regarding the renegotiation, for agreeing a deal which failed to satisfactorily address key Eurosceptic concerns and, at least in part, for a lacklustre remain campaign" (Byrne, Randall and Theakson, 2017: 217). It is, after all, the British Prime Minister who fundamentally shapes the content and direction of the British EU policy, "instigat[ing] and espous[ing] government policy towards European integration" (Daddow, 2015a: 72; further on this account, for instance, Allen and Oliver, 2006; Heffernan, 2005; O'Malley, 2007).

To understand the intriguing issue of David Cameron's European legacy, it is essential to have a clear vision of his EU policy, which, with hindsight, has always been an extremely complex issue. His EU policy record in office has been often interpreted as inconsistent and ambiguous (for example, Jennings, 2013; Lynch, 2011: 229; McTague, 2016; Oliver, 2017: 2; Vasilopoulou, 2015), or even "schizophrenic" (Brown and John, 2013; Mates, 2012). Likewise, his stance towards the EU has been given different labels (apart from the variance along the soft/hard Eurosceptic scale2), ranging from "technocratic form of Euroscepticism" (Tournier-Sol, 2015: 147) and "elite-based Euroscepticism" (Tournier-Sol, 2015: 148) to "reluctant euroscepticism" (Vail, 2015: 112). Cameron himself used to describe his position as "a eurosceptic albeit a practical and sensible one at the same time" (Lynch, 2011: 220-222; Kirkup, 2010).

This article focuses on what lies behind these labels, drawing its attention to the EU policy developments under Cameron's leadership of the Conservative Party. It aims to explore how his EU policy evolved over time and evaluate patterns of its continuity and change as well as the reasons underneath the developments. The central research question that this survey seeks to answer is: what were the patterns of continuity and change in David Cameron's EU policy? The inquiry addresses this question by surveying three stages of Cameron's EU policy corresponding with his three cabinets: 1) shadow cabinet (the term in opposition; 2005-2010); 2) first cabinet (Cameron-Clegg coalition; 2010-2015); and 3) second cabinet (single-party ministry; 2015-2016). As such, it helps deepen our understanding of Cameron's European policy and provides key insights into the logic of his European dilemmas.

Significance of this inquiry has been highlighted by the present period of extraordinary turbulence in the UK's relationship with the EU. It is important now more than ever to explore British European policy and its underlying drivers. …

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