Prime Minister David Cameron said the European Union’s drive for closer political and economic cooperation represents an opportunity for Britain as it seeks to recast its relationship with the bloc.
His 20 hours spent at a summit in Brussels yesterday and today showed Britain can seize the opportunity to renegotiate its position, Cameron said. He also played down achievements of recent days, including an agreement on euro-area banking union, saying the challenges ahead remain very difficult because they deal with issues of sovereignty for all 27 members of the union.
“The euro-zone members are making changes that they need, and we should be able to argue that we should make changes that we need,” Cameron told reporters after the summit. “We say you can go ahead with your banking union, but in return for that we need proper safeguards for countries that stay outside the single currency and the banking union.”
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. The premier said Dec. 10 he’ll set out his plans soon to renegotiate membership and will be arguing for Britain to stay in the EU.
Cameron said that the U.K. is making gains in reshaping the EU, citing as an example a commitment from the European Commission, its executive branch, to “scrapping some of its regulations,” which he said hold back businesses. It is “the first time” the Commission has adopted such a stance, he said.
“There has to be the flexibility in Europe to respect the fact that there are countries that aren’t part of the euro and never will be,” the prime minister said.
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 party.