WATCH: "We Want Our Country Back"

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What can we expect from PM's big EU speech?

If David Cameron does not commit fully to the EU in his speech on Wednesday, firms will be weighing up alternative options in Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere - warns Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder. 

key_catherine.pngDavid Cameron's speech tomorrow (Wednesday, January 22) on the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union has been more heavily trailed than a big screen blockbuster. But, before we grab the popcorn, perhaps we should question who is in the audience and what certificate it is likely to get - suitable for all ages or restricted to adults only with strong stomachs? 

Should we expect a blood and guts horror show, as the UK's four-decade bond with Europe is ruthlessly severed to appease foaming at the mouth Tory backbenchers? Then again, it seems unlikely that we will have to sit through a gushy chick-flick where Britain decides it was wrong all along, and falls back into the arms of its doting European lover. 

Or an attempt at the softly, softly family story that says nothing much and pleases nobody? My bet is we will watch the credits roll and wonder if anything concrete has been said at all. And there lies the problem, nobody expects Cameron to turn his back on Europe - but equally, suggestions that he will now push for a positive vision for the EU just sounds hollow after training by his Conservative friends. 

Backbenchers in his own party demand, and will expect, hardened pledges on repatriating powers from 'Brussels'. However, be warned, fellow EU member states are clear what they expect. Britain cannot be allowed to cherry pick elements of EU policy. It is not, the British prime minister has been told, an a la carte menu. A high degree of dithering is unhelpful for everyone at a time when a clear path forward for the union is needed. 

The voter is understandably confused, and UK citizens are already blitzed with inaccurate scare stories pedalled by UKIP, the 'red top' sensationalist press and disgruntled Tories. It is difficult for the electorate to split fact from fantasy. Meanwhile, talking up the prospect of any referendum now, when any possible treaty change may be years away merely creates uncertainty for business and risks damaging job-creating investment into the UK. 

Let us face it, if you are a multinational company looking to invest in Europe to sell to the world's largest single market - are you really going to invest in jobs in Britain when it does not have a commitment to its relationship with our biggest export market for two, five or even 10 years? I would imagine you will be weighing up your options in Germany, the Netherlands, or any southern countries where the support for employment creation will be great. 

And, anyway, why would fellow member states be held to ransom as the UK demands fundamental changes to our exclusive advantage? Short answer, they will not. Unlike Cameron and his audience in the Conservative Party, I am 100 per cent sure where Britain's interests lie. The UK has played a fundamental role in establishing the EU and we should play a fundamental role in its development. 

Positive reform can only come through working closely with our European partners. Not by thumbing our nose from across the channel. In these difficult times, we must concentrate on the major economic challenges and the national interest; fixing the eurozone, protecting our trading rights and preserving our voice in Europe. Not, I stress, by threatening to turn our back and, in a delusional manner, wandering into an unknown future alone. 

Like many of the businesses, law enforcement agencies and environmentalists - who understand that we are all reliant on cooperation to address their interests - I will be waiting to hear some positive and constructive words from Cameron. We want a blockbuster that is worthy of an Oscar to bring in the public, the UK and the rest of Europe. Unfortunately, I think we all know what the answer will be. And when the reviews come flooding in, I fear they will read: no plot, no substance and straight to DVD. 

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