So here's my view of the British EU negotiations: I think the EU shouldn't concede any more special opt-outs to Britain. And I think we should stay in the EU.
The founding principle of the EU is to come to agreements that hold across the member countries. It is completely contrary to the best spirits of the EU to let the British opt-out of its founding principles. The EU has frankly been doing too much of this: we got a special rebate on our EU contributions in the 1980s; we got to opt out of the Euro and the Schengen arrangements in the 1990s; in the last few years we demanded opt-outs - incredibly - on police and judicial cooperation. And now we want opt-outs on welfare benefits for EU citizens, special protection for the City of London from EU regulations, to be able to opt out of 'ever closer union', and for these opt-outs to be written into the Treaty.
This has got to stop. We're like a playground bully who gets reluctantly invited to join in a game and then insists on changing all the rules to suit him. Britain has consistently refused to pool sovereignty, always putting its own national interests above the common European interest. We don't understand Europe, so why should Europe be so understanding to us?
There are urgent issues that the EU should be addressing. We have a migration issue across Europe that needs a pan-European plan to address. Instead Europe is wasting time negotiating with Britain on its stupid demands. And they are stupid: he wants to be able to opt out of 'ever closer union', which is a ludicrous blank cheque that will obviously come legally unstuck the first time Britain tries to activate this right; why is he doing it? To pacify the frothingly Eurosceptic tabloids. And why does Cameron want these opt-outs to be written into the Treaty? Just to make it look more binding to the Euronutters on his back benches. But it won't work. It was never going to work. Nigel Farage and Lord Dacre's Daily Mail just want out. Nothing less will do, so it doesn't matter what he negotiates, particularly not these meaningless symbols. He's wasting everyone's time.
Of course the EU should be reformed. It's cumbersome and slow-moving. Qualified majority voting needs to be extended into all areas; at the moment all members have an effective veto in some important areas (finance, foreign policy, and so on), which just slow everything down and impedes genuine European democracy. It needs to be quicker to respond; there should be a presumption of agreement in some areas. It needs an infrastructure to support some security and judicial cooperation (basically, we need a Europe-wide police force). We need to beef up the freedom of movement and get rid of Britain's opt-out. There needs to be some check on the power of a country like Germany to impose austerity on everyone else. In fact, there need to be checks and balances to stop countries (like Britain, but not just Britain) putting national above European interests. And yeah, we need much closer political union.
I'm not as completely committed to EU membership as I once was. I was appalled by the treatment of Greece last year and I worry that the austeriarchs have taken over. There are European countries - not as big and as connected as us, admittedly - that seem to function reasonably well outside the EU. And I think that the EU might function better without the UK; it certainly would at the moment.
But despite all that, I think there is something bold and beautiful in the European project. A recognition of a shared history and a determination to avoid war, to solve problems through agreement rather than conflict, to allow its citizens to feel themselves part of a larger unit that the hokey old private members' club of nationalism. Europe has horrors in its past (genocide, colonialism, exploitation, bigotry), but it also has extraordinary achievements (culture, liberty, philosophy, discovery and daring). The European Union is about making those extraordinary achievements triumph over the horror.
So that's why I think these negotiations are idiotic.
First, they are a catastrophic error of tactics: they are a distraction from the main issue; they will never be good enough because the real Eurosceptic just want out and the millions who voted UKIP have an extremely inchoate worry about migration that simply won't be addressed by some technical treaty changes.
Second, they confuse the debate. The real question is do we want to be part of the European project or not? It's not a referendum on Cameron's negotiating skill or the particular set of concessions he and his team have managed to wangle. But it'll become part of that because Cameron, stupidly, made the success of his negotiation a condition for his recommending that we remain. So that will become the issue, but it's not the issue.
We should get no concessions. We should argue the case for staying in. And the UK should stay in.