Hollande rejects UK demands for EU reform

French president is latest to rebuff to British efforts to secure support for EU changes

Different views: David Cameron and Francois Hollande look around the hangar prior to a joint press conference  at the Royal Air Force base at Brize-Norton on Friday. Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA

Different views: David Cameron and Francois Hollande look around the hangar prior to a joint press conference at the Royal Air Force base at Brize-Norton on Friday. Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA

 

British prime minister David Cameron’s demands for changes to European Union treaties are “not a priority”, French president Francois Hollande said yesterday.

The blunt rejection came in talks between the two in Oxfordshire and led Mr Cameron to insist that a British referendum on EU membership will be, nevertheless, held in 2017.

In reply to questions, Mr Hollande said France wanted the UK to stay in the EU, but other EU states could not “just [be] expected to follow the example of one country in Europe”.

He accepted that the EU must become more competitive in global trade, but disagreed that that required treaty changes.

Mr Hollande’s comments are the latest rebuff to the British, who have spent months in quiet talks with other EU capitals trying to drum up support for EU reform.

The UK, if Mr Cameron is re-elected in May 2015, now faces an in/out referendum in 2017, even though the only changes that can then be offered will be minor.

In a separate development, the House of Lords finally killed off a bid by a Conservative MP, James Wharton to lay down in law that a 2017 referendum would have to be held.

Peers voted by 180 to 150 to end debate on the legislation, which Mr Wharton had piloted on behalf of Mr Cameron because the prime minister could not get the Liberal Democrats to support it.

Extraordinarily, however, Mr Cameron immediately emailed Conservative Party members to declare that a final bid to make it law by the election would be made.

“We are going to try to re-introduce the same bill in the next session of Parliament and, if necessary, rely on the provisions in the Parliament Act to stop Labour and Liberal Democrat peers killing the bill once again,” he said.

However, the Parliament Act can only be used for government-sponsored legislation, rather than Private Members’ Bills, so it is unclear how this could happen, since the Liberal Democrats will not agree to it.

On Thursday, the Liberal Democrats and Labour combined to blocked an attempt by Conservative MPs to make it easier to deport foreign criminals.

Put together, the issues highlight how difficult it is proving for the coalition to remain politically coherent, even though there is still 16 months to go in the government’s life.