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David Cameron’s European Dilemma

PARIS – As the euro crisis has widened the gap between the 17 eurozone countries and the European Union’s other ten members, the debate around a “multi-speed Europe,” in which countries pursue deeper integration at different rates, has been reinvigorated. This issue will be at the core of a speech by British Prime Minister David Cameron (scheduled for January 18, but postponed in view of the hostage situation in Algeria), in which he will attempt to redefine the United Kingdom’s relationship with the EU.

Rarely has a speech fueled so much international debate before its delivery. Officially, Cameron favors remaining in the EU, provided that the UK is granted various derogations from common rules and policies. In his speech, he is expected to pledge to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership, and subsequently to hold a referendum on the revised relationship if he is re-elected in 2015.

Meanwhile, the UK’s allies are growing increasingly nervous. Indeed, the United States and Ireland have publicly urged the UK to remain an EU member. And the Netherlands and Finland have indicated that a British exit would damage their interests, which include retaining the UK as a free-market ally in European negotiations.

Moreover, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy has warned that the plan to repatriate certain powers from the EU could damage the single market. British business leaders and media outlets have also expressed strong support for EU membership, owing to close commercial ties between the UK and the rest of Europe. Even Cameron’s coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, have voiced concerns about the risks of an exit.