The British people may well be only 18 weeks away from answering the most important political question of our generation: do we want to stay in the EU, or do we want to leave? Brits will be forced to consider who we are as a nation, where we stand in the world, and what kind of country we want to be.
Answering these existential questions surely requires us to think deeply about how we can ensure security for ourselves and our children; economic security as well as freedom from conflict and the uncertainty caused by climate change.
Even Eurosceptics accept that being a member of a single market with other countries means there are more jobs available for British people. And those jobs are higher quality because we are in Europe, because of our European rights to measures like paid holiday, maternity and paternity leave, and protection of our health and safety at work.
Yet many such jobs are under threat, in the UK and across Europe, because of the twin pressures of competition from low-wage economies and job losses from digitalisation. These challenges are fundamentally international in their nature.
We can have far more impact on the economic policies of countries like India and China as part of a union of 500 million consumers across Europe than as one country on our own: through European trade deals, environmental agreements and strict import standards that stop European producers being undercut.
Similarly, we can only deal with the power of mega-corporations like Google by working across borders — as recent revelations about tax dodging have shown. In addition, the kinds of scientific and technological developments that will provide the high-quality jobs of the future are generally only created through the meeting of minds — and funds — generated by European and other international collaboration.
And when it comes to dealing with the challenges of international terrorism, crime and climate change, it is obvious that criminals and carbon emissions don’t respect borders. That means politicians have to work across them, rather than continue to propagate the fiction that borders are all that matters, as Nigel Farage and others might have us believe.
No politician with a shred of integrity can deny the need to solve these problems. Yet rather than focus on them, David Cameron has fixated on the internal management of his party.
If you look closely at the details of his renegotiation package, it barely touches on any of the big issues. There is very little in there about trade. No mention of climate change, of fighting terrorism, of adjusting to fundamental changes in society and labour markets. There was a risk that he was even going to try and water down workers’ rights in the deal, but a concerted effort by Labour MEPs saw that off.
He has spectacularly failed to rise to the challenge. He is fiddling while Rome burns.
There was a genuine opportunity here for a big debate, held between 28 countries on an equal footing, about what the EU needs to become in order to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
But if Cameron does strike a deal today, it will be thanks to some incredibly hard work behind the scenes and because other European leaders have been able to see beyond the details of this renegotiation to the more important point: that the UK is better off in the EU, and the EU is better off with the UK in it. As we now move into the referendum campaign proper, I urge British voters to do the same: look at the big picture, not the small man who nearly threw it all away.