U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron seized on European Union efforts to improve governance and increase integration as an opportunity to reposition Britain’s role in the 27-nation bloc.
As leaders arrived in Brussels to discuss proposals for the future that may include changes to existing EU treaties, Cameron said he sees “opportunities” to shape the agenda as he seeks to appease an increasingly vocal group of lawmakers in his Conservative Party back home.
“These are broader discussions really about how Europe is changing, and a lot of that change is being driven because of the euro and because the countries in the euro need to integrate more, need to integrate their institutions more,” Cameron said.
German plans to water down and delay proposals from European Commission President Jose Barroso and EU President Herman Van Rompuy will form the basis of talks between leaders. The gathering may set a 2013 target for binding euro governments to German-inspired economic-reform contracts, while putting off any increases in European financing until after 2014.
Cameron said the drive for closer integration that the U.K. won’t be a part of provides the opportunity to seek concessions from the EU that give the U.K. greater autonomy. Cameron won’t make firm demands today at a dinner with the other 26 leaders, his aides said.
“Britain’s not in the euro, we’re not going to join the euro, so we won’t be part of that integration, but this change taking place does give us the opportunities to argue for the things that we want in Europe and get a better deal for Britain in Europe,” Cameron said. “That’s what I’m interested in discussing and pursuing for Britain. That won’t be decided today, but it’s a start of some important conversations where I think Britain can actually do better.”
Under pressure from his party, Cameron has signaled he’d be prepared to offer a referendum on a renegotiated relationship with the EU after the next election due in 2015.
Cameron said Dec. 10 he’ll set out his plans soon to renegotiate membership and that he’ll be arguing for Britain to stay in the EU. He denied this would mean confronting his party.
What the outcome of a referendum would be is unclear. As in 1975, when Britons voted against leaving the European Economic Community, those arguing for staying in would include the leaders of all three main parties. Against them would be many Conservative lawmakers and the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party, which recently scored its best-ever results in special elections to fill House of Commons vacancies, finishing second in two held on Nov. 29.
Conservative opponents of EU membership argue that Cameron’s refusal to call a plebiscite before 2015 harms their electoral prospects. One, Michael Fabricant, argued last month for an electoral pact with UKIP, arguing that promising a referendum would stop the Conservatives losing support to the anti-EU party.