British PM rejects 'ever closer' union

Thu, Jan 24, 2013, 00:00

Voters in the United Kingdom will be given a referendum on European Union membership within five years, British prime minister David Cameron has pledged – but he insisted that he wants the UK to remain in the EU.

Rejecting calls for “ever- closer union”, Mr Cameron said the EU should not insist “on a one-size-fits-all approach which implies that all countries want the same level of integration. The fact is that they don’t.”

Urging other EU states to “work with us on this”, Mr Cameron said “extraordinary steps” had been taken by the 17-strong euro zone club to “keep the euro together, steps which a year ago would have seemed impossible. It does not seem to me that the steps which would be needed to make Britain – and others – more comfortable in their relationship in the EU are inherently so outlandish or unreasonable,” he said.

“If we don’t address these challenges, the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit. I do not want that to happen. I want the EU to be a success. I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it,” he said.

The speech, in preparation for months, was welcomed by Conservative MPs, but met with a frosty reaction from the Liberal Democrats, while some business leaders also feared that Mr Cameron was creating five years of uncertainty.

“There is a growing frustration that the EU is seen as something that is done to people rather than acting on their behalf. And this is being intensified by the very solutions required to resolve the economic problems,” said Mr Cameron.

“People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the continent.”

Referendum guaranteed

Draft legislation will be prepared before the 2015 UK general election, guaranteeing a referendum. Mr Cameron insisted that he would demand that post-2015 coalition partners, such as the Liberal Democrats, accept it.

The EU must become more flexible and must urgently strengthen the single market, he said, while restrictive labour laws and “excessive regulation”, he said, were not “some external plague that have been visited on our businesses”.

“The biggest danger to the EU comes not from those who advocate change, but from those who denounce new thinking as heresy. In its long history, Europe has experience of heretics who turned out to have a point.

“More of the same will not secure a long-term future for the euro zone. More of the same will not see the EU keeping pace with the new powerhouse economies. More of the same will not bring the EU any closer to its citizens,” he said.

The British, he acknowledged, are often seen as “argumentative and rather strong-minded” by other EU states but “all this doesn’t make us somehow un-European”, he said, in the early morning speech in London.

Renegotiated deal

Refusing to accept that he would get nothing from negotiations, Mr Cameron said: “I refuse to take such a defeatist attitude – either for Britain or for Europe.”

He would campaign for a renegotiated deal “with all my heart and soul”, he said. “I believe something very deeply. That Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open EU and that such an EU is best with Britain in it.”

Calling for a mature debate in the UK, he said: “We should think very carefully before giving that position up. If we left the European Union, it would be a one-way ticket, not a return. So we will have time for a proper, reasoned debate.”