Many reforms sought by Britain can be met without treaty change, says Kenny

Fri, Jan 25, 2013, 00:00

Many of the EU reforms being demanded by Britain could be addressed within the bloc without immediate treaty change, Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday told delegates at the World Economic Forum.

A day after British prime minister David Cameron promised UK voters a referendum on EU membership if re-elected in 2015, Mr Kenny noted that “five years is an eternity in politics”.

“The EU will be stronger if Britain remains part of that,” said Mr Kenny, on a panel that included Italian, Danish and Dutch leaders. “I would like to see Britain remain central for the European Union.”

Ireland had linked its future to the euro zone and Europe, he said, but was well aware of both the British debate and its contribution to Europe, in particular the common market.

“We are the closest partner to Britain; there is great contact,” he said.

Insisting that he did not speak for the British government, he suggested that many issues of concern to London – such as cutting bureaucracy to boost economic activity – “are things you can change from inside”.

Mr Kenny said he saw no opportunity at the moment to start a discussion on repatriation of powers back to national capitals.

However, he said this could change if the banking union debate required European treaty change, though this would be a matter for the next European Commission and parliament after 2014.

“I am not concerned now with repatriation of powers,” he said. “You can talk about these issues in terms of future treaty change if and when they arise.”

Subsidiarity debate

Other panellists expressed various levels of understanding for Mr Cameron yesterday, with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte the most positive.

“We need debate on subsidiarity – which tasks should be dealt with at European and national level, but I think that should be debated among the EU 27,” he said.

Danish leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt said Mr Cameron had hit upon “a legitimate debate – and we should keep asking questions” rather than ease up reform efforts after recent EU success.

Italian prime minister Mario Monti, a former European commissioner, was the most cautious.

He said it was important that any referendum asked voters “the full question: do they wish to continue as members of the EU or not”.

“This is the only way that each of our countries can make a choice on its own without hijacking the others,” he said.

Asked in this way, he said he was confident British voters would answer yes to the EU.