European Council President Donald Tusk warned yesterday (15 March) that British Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans to amend the bloc’s treaties to secure a new deal for Britain in Europe were virtually “mission impossible”.
“My intuition is that treaty change is close to mission impossible today because it’s not only about rationality, about good argument,” Tusk said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper.
“We need unanimity between 28 member states, in the European parliament, in 28 national parliaments in the process of ratification. To say that it is a Pandora’s Box is an understatement.”
The former Polish prime minister added, “I am ready to help Cameron […] I have no doubt that we have to help in a limited and rational framework. We have to help David Cameron because he is obviously pro-European. I am sceptical when it comes to changing the treaty.”
If he is re-elected in May’s general election, Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the European Union, notably to introduce tighter controls on immigration, and hold an in or out referendum by 2017.
He accepts that his proposed reforms would require changes to existing EU treaties, but is under pressure to deliver from the right flank of his Conservative party and the anti-EU, anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP).
UKIP leader Nigel Farage has reportedly promised to support Cameron’s party in the event that it does not win a parliamentary majority in May, on the condition that it brings the EU referendum forward to 2015.
Referendum in July?
The Sunday Telegraph reported that Farage had set out clear plans for such a deal, for the first time, in his book, The Purple Revolution. It is being serialised in the newspaper.
“The terms of my deal with the Tories would be very precise and simple. I want a full and fair referendum to be held in 2015 to allow Britain to vote on being in or out of the European Union,” Farage wrote.
The referendum’s question should be something like “Do you wish to be a free, independent sovereign democracy?”, Farage suggested. He would demand agreement on the vote’s timing, wording, voter eligibility and referendum conduct.
UKIP would be joined in supporting the Conservatives by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party under the plan.
“UKIP would support a confidence and supply agreement with the government, whoever the government may be,” a UKIP spokeswoman told AFP when asked about the report.
“They want to hold the feet of the elected representatives of this country to the fire.”
Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU before holding a referendum on whether to leave the 28-member-state bloc in 2017.
The prospect of an earlier vote on the so-called “Brexit” has the potential to rattle investors and cause concern in Brussels.
Between 34 and 38% of people in England, Scotland and Wales believe Britain should leave the EU, compared to between 37% and 45% who say it should stay in the bloc, according to polls conducted in the first months of 2015.
As the general election nears, parties have begun gently sounding out potential alliances. The surging Scottish National Party and the Green party have ruled out a deal with the Conservatives, leaving open the possibility of a potential rival left-leaning Labour-led alliance.
Polls predicts that the Conservative party will win 288 seats and may be left short of the 326 needed for a majority even if supported by the DUP, UKIP, and current coalition partners the Liberal Democrats.
The 7 May UK general election will go a long way towards deciding whether Britain will stay in the European Union, or choose to leave, after forty years of uneasy relations.
A surge in Eurosceptism has firmly pushed the European Union onto the political agenda in Britain.
The ruling Conservatives have promised an in/out referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017 if they win the election, placing Europe's future at the centre of the debate.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said he would campaign for the UK to stay, but only if the EU was able to reform, saying “Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union”.
However, five years after the formation of the UK’s first coalition government since World War II, the polls are pointing to another hung parliament.