Under increasing pressure from the Conservatives to hold a referendum on the EU’s new treaty, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he will veto any agreement that does not respect the country’s hard-fought “red lines”.
Brown insisted that British interests will be safeguarded when EU leaders meet in Lisbon on 18-19 October to agree on a proposed EU ‘Reform Treaty’. Speaking in Downing Street at a joint press conference with Commission President José Manuel Barroso on Thursday (11 October), Brown said the UK had succeeded in having its “red-lines” written into the text of the EU amending treaty.
“Opt-outs and vetoes relating to matters such as national security, foreign policy and social security payments would be present “in the detail” of the document to be considered at the EU Summit on 18 October”, said Number 10 in a statement.
“If of course we did not achieve our red lines, we would not be able to accept the amending treaty,” Brown said.
Brown’s comments were primarily aimed at easing growing calls from the opposition to hold a referendum on the treaty, with Timothy Kirkhope, leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, saying that “the national interest can only truly be served if Gordon Brown delivers on the referendum he promised the British people.”
Speaking in Downing Street, Barroso said it was “up to the British people and the British institutions to define what their national interest is” and recalled that referendum decisions can only be taken at national level.
He also tried to soothe Conservative fears by defending the British influence on the EU’s agenda. “What I can say is that our agenda, the agenda of this Commission and the agenda of the European Union of today…is very much the British agenda for an open economy, for a reform economy, for a more competitive Europe, for a global Europe.”
But Barroso’s remarks will make uncomfortable reading for some Socialists and leftist groups in France who successfully campaigned against the EU Constitution in 2005 along the lines that European integration was dominated by an Anglo-Saxon, free-market agenda.
“There will not be adherence by citizens to the European project without new progress on a social Europe,” warned Martin Schultz, leader of the Socialists in the European Parliament in a visit to Lisbon ahead of the summit.
During his campaign, French President Nicolas Sarkozy often referred to the EU as “the Trojan horse” of globalisation and repeatedly called for a more protective Europe.