Osborne Says U.K. Rejects `Ever-Closer Union' in EU Reform Talks

U.K. Seeking to Renegotiate EU Terms
  • Chancellor says he's giving more specifics in Berlin speech
  • Cameron due to set out renegotiation demands in writing

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne took his case for European Union reform to Germany, focusing his demands on Britain’s rejection of ever-closer union within the 28-nation bloc and guarantees for member states that aren’t in the euro.

QuickTake Will Britain Leave the EU?

Speaking at a conference of business leaders in Berlin on Tuesday, a day after holding talks with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaueble, Osborne said the push for closer integration has caused strain between the U.K. and other European nations. Nonetheless, he praised Britain’s relationship with Germany and that country’s leadership role in the EU. Chancellor Angela Merkel told the same event she wants Britain to remain in the bloc.

George Osborne speaks in Berlin
George Osborne speaks in Berlin
Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

“Quite frankly, the British people do not want to be part of an ever-closer union,” Osborne told the conference. “‎We want Britain to remain in a reformed European Union, but it needs to be an EU that works better for all the citizens of Europe.”

Key Role

Osborne is taking a key role in Britain’s negotiations to reform its relationship with the bloc ahead of a referendum on membership that Prime Minister David Cameron has promised by the end of 2017. Support in Britain for leaving the EU has increased, with a YouGov Plc poll last week suggesting opinions were evenly split.

The chancellor told his German audience that he’s spelling out what Britain is looking for more clearly than previously, just days before Cameron is due to write to EU President Donald Tusk with a list of demands from the negotiations. An EU summit is scheduled to discuss those demands next month.

“It needs to be a Europe where we are not part of that ever-closer union you are more comfortable with,” Osborne said. “In the U.K., where this is widely interpreted as a commitment to ever-closer political integration, that concept is now supported by a tiny proportion of voters.”

Speaking to the conference earlier Tuesday, Merkel said she’s “of the opinion that Britain should remain a member of the EU” and added that “when it comes to justified concerns, where competitiveness and better functioning of the EU are concerned, British concerns are our concerns."

Greater Safeguards

Osborne pushed for greater safeguards for the EU’s non-euro area members, a move that has brought him support from nations such as Denmark and Sweden.

The chancellor also said that the bloc should recognize that “the EU has more than one currency” and non-euro-zone countries’ business should not be discriminated against on the basis of their currency. He said that taxpayers outside the euro area must never be compelled to bear the costs of supporting euro-area members.

"You get a euro zone that works better, we get a guarantee that euro-zone costs aren’t imposed on us,” Osborne said. “The result will be a better European Union.”

Cameron said after talks with Nordic and Baltic leaders in Iceland last week that he’s “confident we can get a good settlement for Europe and a good settlement for Britain” as the pace of negotiations quickens.

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