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The British prime minister, David Cameron, has just shown his hand by declaring that he would gift his countrymen an in-out referendum in 2017 on Britainís stay in the European Union if he is brought back to power in the 2015 elections. This is a political gambit that is aimed at shoring up Mr Cameronís popularity graph, and there are no two ways about this. The Conservatives have always dithered on the issue of Britainís membership of the EU, so Mr Cameron will have his partyís support. This is especially since he has also managed to negate the challenge from the UK Independence Party, which wants a complete withdrawal from the EU. But by doing so, he has also trapped his party within the EU rhetoric for almost two elections besides throwing his country into economic uncertainty. The outcome of the 2017 referendum, if there is one, will depend on his partyís ability to wrest a new settlement from EUís other members that would give Britain a competitive edge in the single market. Since this is not something that countries such as Germany and France would give in to easily, the Conservative Party might be left with the unenviable job of whipping up a mass hysteria prior to the 2017 referendum that would be strong enough to push Britain into taking a drastic decision. This is not a spectre Mr Cameron wants to think about. He is merely happy at having thrown down the gauntlet.

Mr Cameron is also happy because he has given voice to the disaffection in his country with the increase of taxes to pay for the economic recovery of countries on the other side of the continent. This is a voice not unknown to the other EU members. The defeat of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in the recently held regional elections is, in a way, tied to it, as are the electoral fortunes of other EU leaders. They may not give Mr Cameron what he wants, but the issues he has raised are well worth paying attention to.