Merkel offers Cameron some support in his drive to re-negotiate the terms of EU membership, amid a largely negative response from European leaders, with a former Belgian Prime Minster saying there can be “no question” of granting Britain opt-outs.
In his much anticipated and hyped speech about his vision for the future of the EU, Prime Minster David Cameron warned that without reform, “Europe will fail and Britain will drift to the exit.”
But his speech was met with alarm in mainland Europe, with only a handful of nations offering lukewarm support to the PM’s ideas.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was ready to “talk about British wishes” and that she wanted to see a “fair compromise”. Her limited support will likely be seen as a small victory for Cameron.
“I don’t believe that to make a decision at this moment is the right way forward, either for Britain or for Europe as a whole,” said Cameron, assuring that he would hold the referendum in 2017 should he be re-elected in 2015.
“I say to the British people: this will be your decision. And when that choice comes, you will have an important choice to make about our country’s destiny,” stated the British Prime Minister.
The PM stressed there was widespread frustration with a “rigid and cumbersome” union that has cut living standards and enforced austerity throughout the continent. Cameron described an ever-widening gap between the citizens of Europe and an uncompromising leadership.
British support for the EU is currently “wafer-thin,” informed Cameron.
Championing a “practical” approach to EU policy, Cameron stated that competitiveness should lie at the heart of the EU in a push for “leaner, less bureaucratic union.”
Flexibility would also be key in the prime minister’s proposed reforms to the EU, encompassing the diversity of all its members.
Criticizing a “one size fits all policy,” he said that Britain should only be part of an organization that reflect its best interests.
“Over the coming weeks, months and years, I will not rest until this debate is won,” concluded Cameron.
Following the speech, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said leaving the EU would be dangerous for the UK.
“You join the [football] club, but once you are in you can’t say that you want to play rugby,” said Fabius, dismissing Cameron’s reform ideas as a push for “Europe à la carte.”
Furthermore, German Chancellor Merkel said Europe was prepared to negotiate with Britain, but would not compromise on the interests of the Union.
Ex Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt attacked Cameron’s speech, saying that it was indicative of his lack of knowledge of the EU.
"His speech was full of inconsistencies, displaying a degree of ignorance about how the EU works," said Verhofstadt, stressing that debating the UK’s membership was “playing with fire.”
The US also entered into the EU membership debate. The White House said President Obama had called on Cameron to emphasize how Washington “values a strong UK in a strong European Union.”
The opposition leader Ed Miliband slammed Cameron prior to the speech, saying his words would "define him as a weak prime minister, being driven by his party, not by the national economic interest."
Miliband accused Prime Minister Cameron in a parliamentary debate of being “afraid” of his own MPs. He claimed Cameron was not motivated by the interests of the UK and was in fact acting at the behest of fellow party members.
Miliband said Cameron was taking a “huge gamble” on the economy and could put Britain through “years of uncertainty.”
“He is running scared of UKIP [the anti-EU UK Independence Party], he has given in to his party and he can't deliver for Britain.”
The UK Independence Party does not believe it will be possible to renegotiate Britain’s position in the EU and wants to have a referendum as soon as possible, Paul Nuttall, an MEP for UKIP, told RT.
“The point is, is that renegotiation is going to be nigh on impossible, you’ve had Herman Van Rompoy, the Head of the European Council, Jose Manuel Barroso, you’ve had Shulz whose the head of the European parliament, you’ve had the Dutch Prime Minister, the list can go on, of all these people who are saying that Britain cannot Cherry Pick and what we’re saying is give us that referendum and give it to us now,” he said.
UKIP’s spokesman for the City of London, Steven Woolfe, rejected claims that Britain would be economically isolated if it left Europe.
“They said that we would be in huge problems if we came out of the ERM, they said that business would not actually invest in the UK unless we join the Euro, this isn’t going to happen. We are not going to believe the false promises and the false concerns that European politicians and big business are going to throw at us. There is an unholy alliance that seems to be forming between old conservatives, with large corporations with members of the Labor party who want to frighten people of this country that say they can’t survive on their own, but we’re still the sixth biggest trading nation in the world,” he told RT.
Conservative MP David Campbell Bannerman told RT that the prime minister’s words reflected the view of the British electorate and the general population.
“What’s significant about today is that the British people will get a vote, we haven’t had a vote since 1975 and that is a great step forward,”
Bannerman told RT. He added that the timing of the referendum in 2017 was pragmatic as it gives the union time to adopt the proposed changes.
The MP described Cameron’s stance as a ‘trendsetter’, as many other countries in Europe wanted more flexibility within the union.
“A lot of countries like the Czech Republic, the Dutch and the Danish want more flexibility within the EU and I think this is a trendsetter and I think it’s right of the prime minister to hold out for this to get a better Europe,” he said.