Any demands by the U.K. to claw back powers from the European Union and alter the bloc’s treaties will fall on deaf ears, Finland’s Europe Minister Alexander Stubb said.
“We don’t believe in an a-la-carte Europe -- you can’t pick and choose where you participate,” Stubb said today in a telephone interview. “Any kind of fundamental opt-outs from the European treaties by any member state should be a last resort and we’re very skeptical about them.”
Finland’s government has sided with Germany throughout Europe’s debt crisis in championing austerity and seeking a tighter coordination of policies to target a more unified bloc. Stubb said the British government was using European politics to divert attention away from domestic issues.
“I think that in the long run that doesn’t usually work,” he said. “I’m actually quite surprised and disappointed by the debate in the U.K. right now because I’ve always seen the U.K. as a champion of freedom, a champion of liberalization of the internal market, as a champion of free trade and as a champion of enlargement.”
A year after promising a referendum on EU membership in 2017, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is under increasing pressure from within his own Conservative Party to cede more ground as the U.K. Independence Party sees its support swell.
The U.K. joined the EU’s predecessor, the European Community, in 1973. Half of British exports are sold inside the 28-nation bloc and the City of London is Europe’s financial hub.
“You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to understand that it is in the interest of the United Kingdom to remain a steadfast member of the European Union,” Stubb said. For the U.K. even to contemplate leaving would be “simply silly,” he said.
U.K. Conservatives began a two-day conference today on renegotiating membership terms with the EU ahead of the referendum.
“It is time to change the EU and to change Britain’s relationship with it,” U.K. Chancellor George Osborne said. “There is a simple choice for Europe: reform or decline.”
Britain’s debate resembles “pub politics,” said Stubb. “I understand that after a few pints people start huffing and puffing about foreigners, about free movement. I simply do not think that’s a viable policy in the long run.”