EurActiv.com

EU news and policy debates across languages

27/09/2016

Cameron sketches out EU reform demands, stays quiet on timing

UK & Europe

Cameron sketches out EU reform demands, stays quiet on timing

Will they shake on a deal before the Brexit referendum?

[Georgina Coupe/Number 10/Flickr]

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he hoped to make good progress with reforms of the European Union when leaders from the bloc meet next month, but he gave no fresh sign of when he plans to hold Britain’s EU membership referendum.

“Am I in a hurry? Well, I want to get on with it,” Cameron said after giving a speech on Tuesday (10 November) on his plans to re-shape Britain’s ties with the EU before the in-out vote.

“Since the election [in May], I’ve been patiently meeting with European leaders across the continent. But as well as patient, and as well as wanting to get on with it, I will be persistent.

“I hope we can make really good progress in December and I’ve done everything possible to make that happen. We don’t have to hold our referendum until the end of 2017, but I’m keen to secure these changes to get on with it, and I’ve been working very hard to do that.”

Cameron, who today also wrote to European Council President Donald Tusk, has said he will hold the referendum before the end of 2017. 

He said on Tuesday he was confident of achieving four key objectives in renegotiating Britain’s EU relationship but warned the UK would have to “think again” about membership if they were not met.

Cameron said it was the UK’s “only chance to get this right” ahead of the in-or-out referendum.

Speaking at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs think tank, he said EU members that retained their own currencies should be treated on the same footing as eurozone members.

Cameron said if countries outside the single currency were “pushed aside and overruled, then it would no longer be a club for us”.

The demands focused on three other key areas — greater competitiveness, an exclusion for Britain from “ever closer union” and curbs on some benefits for EU migrants.

Cameron said he wanted greater controls on the freedom of movement in the 28-country bloc, and said the EU must address a “lack of democratic accountability”.

“I have every confidence that we will achieve an agreement that works for Britain and works for its EU partners,” he said.

“I have no doubt that with patience, with goodwill, with ingenuity, it can be done. And that in doing so we can make Britain and the whole of Europe safer and more prosperous for generations to come.”

Here are some of the highlights of Cameron’s speech and a subsequent question-and-answer session with reporters:

  • On relationship between member states and the EU

“Never forget that the European Union now comprises 28 ancient nations of Europe. That very diversity is Europe’s greatest strength. Britain says let’s celebrate that fact, let’s acknowledge that the answer to every problem is not always more Europe. Sometimes it’s less Europe.”

  • On single market and competitiveness

“We need to bring together all the different proposals, promises and agreements — on the single market, on trade, on cutting regulation — bring it all together into one clear commitment that writes competitiveness into the DNA of the whole European Union.”

  • On ‘ever closer union’

“I can tell you today that as part of our renegotiation, I’m asking European leaders for a clear, legally binding and irreversible agreement to end Britain’s obligation to work for an ever closer union.”

  • On veto

“We’re not suggesting a veto for every single national parliament. We acknowledge that in a Europe of 28 (countries), that would mean gridlock. But we want to see a new arrangement where groups of national parliaments come together and reject European laws which are not in their national interest.”

  • On push for change

“We gain from the union but we bring a lot to it. And we believe very strongly that if a major member state has major concerns, concerns which it has been voicing in a measured and constructive fashion over a number of years, then it is entitled to expect those concerns to be addressed.

“And at the heart of this negotiation is actually a very simple question: is the European Union flexible enough to accommodate the concerns of its very different member states. The answer to that question must be yes if the EU is to survive and prosper in the future.”

  • No second referendum

“If we vote to leave, then we will leave. There will not be another renegotiation and another referendum. So I say to my European counterparts with whom I am negotiating, this is our only chance to get this right – for Britain and for the whole European Union.”

  • On timing of referendum

“Am I in a hurry? Well, I want to get on with it. Since the election, I’ve been patiently meeting with European leaders across the continent. But as well as patient, and as well as wanting to get on with it, I will be persistent.

“I hope we can make really good progress in December and I’ve done everything possible to make that happen. We don’t have to hold our referendum until the end of 2017, but I’m keen to secure these changes to get on with it, and I’ve been working very hard to do that.”

  • On security

“Today as we confront fresh threats and dangers to our country, I am in no doubt that for Britain, the European question is not just about economic security but national security too.”

>>Read: Cameron to put UK’s ‘Brexit’ demands in writing

Positions

Margaritis Schinas, the Commission's chief spokesperson, said:

"We see a number of elements that seem to be feasible like finding ways to increase the role of national parliaments, some issues which are difficult like the relation between euro ins and outs, and some things which are highly problematic as they touch upon fundamental freedoms of our internal market."

Background

Britain’s governing Conservative Party won an absolute majority in the UK general election on 7 May 2015. With 12 more MPs than the other parties combined, the Conservatives no longer have to rely on a coalition partner.

Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union. The renegotiation will be followed by a referendum by the end of 2017, to decide whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the EU.

If he achieves the reforms, Cameron will campaign to stay in. Otherwise, the Conservatives might campaign to leave the EU. This decision could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and Great Britain's position on the international scene.

Some other European countries are ready to listen to Cameron's concerns on issues such as immigration, and may be prepared to make limited concessions to keep Britain in the bloc.

But EU leaders also have their red lines, and have ruled out changing fundamental EU principles, such as the free movement of workers, and a ban on discriminating between workers from different EU states.

>> Read our LinksDossier: The UK's EU referendum: On the path to Brexit?

Timeline

  • 17-18 December: EU summit dedicated to possible reforms to accommodate the UK ahead of the referendum.
  • 2016: Likely year for British EU referendum.
  • 2017: Self-imposed end of year deadline for British Prime Minister David Cameron to hold his in/out referendum.