Britain 'not turning its back' on EU, Cameron tells Davos
British prime minister David Cameron today met European leaders face-to-face today for the first time since setting out his plans to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
He was attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
His speech to the gathering of political, economic and business leaders focused on Britain’s priorities for its 12-month presidency of the G8, including counter-terrorism, tax and transparency.
But he touched on the European question, insisting that his EU policy was “not about turning our backs on Europe — quite the opposite”. He said: “This is about how we make the case for a more competitive, more open and more flexible Europe and how we secure the UK’s place in it.”
Setting out his case for reform of the EU, Mr Cameron added: “It is not just right for the United Kingdom, it is necessary for Europe. “Europe is being out-competed, out-invested, out-innovated and it is time we made the EU an engine for growth, not a cause of cost for businesses and complaint for its citizens.”
However, Mr Cameron warned European leaders that any attempt to shoehorn countries into ever deeper political union was a mistake that Britain would not be a part of.
"Countries in Europe have their histories, their traditions, their institutions, want their own sovereignty, their ability to make their own choices, and to try and shoehorn countries into a centralised political union would be a great mistake for Europe, and Britain wouldn't be part of it," he said.
Mr Cameron also said the G8 countries should focus on countering corporate tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.
"I am a low-tax conservative but I'm not a companies-should-pay-no-tax Conservative," Mr Cameron told the Forum. "Individuals and businesses must pay their fair share."
"Any businesses who think that they can carry on dodging that fair share or that they can keep on selling to the UK and setting up ever-more complex tax arrangements abroad to squeeze their tax bill right down. Well, they need to wake up and smell the coffee because the public who buy from them have had enough," Mr Cameron said.
His comments come in the wake of a number of controversies involving the tax arrangements of multinational corporations such as Amazon, Google and Starbucks.
In his long-awaited speech in London yesterday, Mr Cameron said he hoped to persuade all 27 EU states to join in a new treaty to reform the EU for all its members, but was ready to demand a renegotiated status for Britain alone if other nations did not agree.
Draft legislation will be drawn up by the Conservative Party ahead of the election, and will be enacted by the end of 2015 if Tories win to pave the way for renegotiation and referendum within the next two years, he said.
“It is time for the British people to have their say,” Mr Cameron said.
“It is time to settle this European question in British politics.” Mr Cameron said a new EU treaty should be driven by the five key principles of competitiveness, flexibility, return of powers to national governments, democratic accountability and fairness.
Crucially, he said it was time for the EU to ditch the universal commitment to “ever closer union” and accept that members can decide for themselves how deeply they want to integrate.
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, questioned about Greece, said today it should be possible for a country to leave the euro zone.
Mr Rutte was asked on a World Economic Forum panel whether it was now certain that no countries would be leaving the single currency area after euro zone leaders agreed last year to further aid for Greece in return for draconian austerity measures and structural reforms.
"I believe our aim shoud be to have the whole euro zone intact," he said. "At same time, you can never predict whether some country may want to leave the euro zone. I think that should be possible."