Britain claims support for its challenge to EU
The British minister for Europe has said there are signs of support from some European countries about Britain’s plans to renegotiate its relationship with Europe.
Over the last two weeks, Britain has been in contact with all EU member states, setting out its stall on the contentious issue.
“There is an openness to the debate,” David Lidington said yesterday. “We don’t see any reason why it couldn’t get support . . . Europe has always been flexible . . . There are many examples of where there are different levels of integration within Europe.”
Those who spoke about an “a la carte” Europe, are at risk of “lazy thinking”, he added, saying Europe needed a common approach to its challenges.
Last month, British prime minister David Cameron delivered a much-anticipated speech on Europe, in which he confirmed he would seek to renegotiate the UK’s membership and pledged to hold an “in/out” referendum if re-elected to government.
The speech received a cool response from some European leaders, who accused Britain of adopting a selective approach to EU membership.
German chancellor Angela Merkel, however, said she was “prepared to talk” about the issue with Britain.
The move by Britain to explain its position to its EU partners may be the first stage in a long negotiating process, as it tries to secure a consensual approach to the prospect of treaty negotiation.
Mr Lidington, a Tory MP, re-iterated yesterday that the Conservative party would be campaigning for a Yes vote for membership of a reformed EU in the event of a referendum and was “confident” such a vote would be won comfortably. Many of the concerns about the EU were shared by other countries, he said.
He noted Mr Cameron had been speaking as the leader of the Conservative Party, not as the head of the British coalition government.
While the possibility of treaty change would likely not arise until 2015, he indicated any reopening of treaties could take place within the context of any treaty renegotiation instigated by the European Commission in 2014.
The British foreign office is compiling a “balance of competences” review, which will assess the balance of power between London and Brussels.
The first part of the review, which will focus on key areas including taxation, international development policy, foreign policy and health, will be published this summer.
While the details of any proposed reworking of Britain’s relationship with Europe would be outlined in the Conservative Party’s election manifesto at the next election, Mr Lidington said that ideally the deal would include treaty changes to which all member states could agree.