Keeping Britain in EU 'just got harder'

Taoiseach says other EU leaders around the table had ‘respect’ for British debate

British prime minister David Cameron speaks to the media after an EU summit in Brussels yesterday. Photograph: AP Photo/Yves Logghe

British prime minister David Cameron speaks to the media after an EU summit in Brussels yesterday. Photograph: AP Photo/Yves Logghe

 

British prime minister David Cameron is making a big play for concessions from Europe ahead of a referendum on British EU membership after he failed in his move to block Jean-Claude Juncker’s selection as the next chief of the European Commission.

Mr Cameron warned last evening in Brussels that the task of keeping Britain within the EU had “just got harder” after the EU leaders voted by 26 to two to elect Mr Juncker as president of the commission.

The prospect of increased difficulties in the looming British referendum presents a clear threat to Irish interests, even though Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it was not for him to interfere in the British debate.

In a statutory risk assessment published in April, the Government said the prospect of a British exit from the EU “could introduce profound uncertainty” into Anglo-Irish relations. It is recognised in Government circles that the British general election next year only magnifies the challenge presented by preparations for a British referendum. Mr Cameron’s commitment is to conduct the poll by 2017.

British debate

Asked if it was incumbent on Europe to help Mr Cameron, the Taoiseach said it was for EU leaders to work with all prime ministers who face challenges.

“The relationship between Ireland and Britain has never been stronger in terms of business contact, politics and all of that. We have our memorandum of understanding signed and reapproved ... we continue to work very closely with Britain and with the prime minster,” Mr Kenny told reporters.

At the same time, EU leaders explicitly pledged in a joint communiqué to “address” concerns raised by Mr Cameron.

“The European Council noted that the concept of ever closer union allows for different paths of integration for different countries, allowing those that want to deepen integration to move ahead, while respecting the wish of those who do not want to deepen any further,” the leaders said.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, who opposed Mr Cameron’s campaign against Mr Juncker, said she wanted to keep Britain in the EU. “We’ve showed with the decisions that we made today that we are fully ready to take seriously British concerns and British priorities,” Dr Merkel said.

Cameron’s caution

“The stakes are higher, the battle to reform this organisation has become longer and harder,” he said.

While Mr Cameron insisted he would continue to press for a Yes vote in a referendum, he said Mr Juncker’s appointment had reinforced his conviction that Europe needed to change.

Only Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban joined Mr Cameron in voting against Mr Juncker, former prime minster of Luxembourg.