Cameron seizes euro crisis to ‘defend British national interest’

Cameron Oct 2010 Picnik.jpg

The UK would seek EU opt-outs on directives affecting labour rights and financial services regulation if eurozone countries adopt fundamental treaty changes, Prime Minister David Cameron told the UK parliament on Tuesday (6 September).

Giving evidence to the Westminster liaison committee Cameron was asked how the UK would respond if eurozone countries entered stronger fiscal union through fundamental treaty change.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble last week told a parliamentary party meeting of the ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) that solving the eurozone crisis was not possible without a successor to the Lisbon Treaty, "even though we know how difficult a treaty change will be".

Cameron said that he did not believe that such a treaty change was inevitable, but he added that it would offer the UK opportunities to renegotiate its relationship with the EU.

Areas of frustration with the EU

Cameron intimated that labour rules such as the Working Time Directive and financial services regulation would be clear targets for UK opt-outs.

He told the committee: "There are some areas in which it [the EU] has been extremely frustrating, such as with the Working Time Directive and areas that have come in under health and safety, but are not really health and safety but labour laws. I have always felt that those would be better dealt with at the national level."

Asked if labour laws were the main area where the UK would seek to carve itself out of EU regulation, Cameron replied: "We have a large and successful financial services industry – other European countries do not, and many of them are jealous of it. Those are the sorts of issues that we should be looking at to ensure that we are defending the British national interest."

It was the second time Cameron had raised financial services at the meeting. He also said that he had been struck over the past year "that there are risks to Britain from Europe in terms of European financial regulation".

He added: "Unlike other European countries, we have a very large financial services industry […] we should not be naive in Europe. There are many who would quite like to take a piece of our financial services industry."

Temporary Workers' Directive unpopular in governing coalition

Earlier in the day Downing Street denied reports that UK government officials were preparing to dilute or even fail to implement the Temporary Workers' Directive, due to come into effect on 1 October.

Sources within Downing Street were reported to have taken advice on how they might modify the introduction of the legislation, which offers temporary workers the same rights as their permanent counterparts after a 12-week working period.

Downing Street denied that there were any plans to modify the legislation or fail to implement it, but suggestions that the UK was seeking to modify the new law indicate that this is one of the pieces of legislation that would come under review in any future treaty change.

MEPs from both the governing coalition parties told EURACTIV that the new law was regrettable.

Martin Callanan, the chairman of the UK Conservatives in the European Parliament, said: "I think that the Temporary Workers Directive is a crazy piece of legislation that will destroy jobs in the UK, especially because it is one of the key destinations of temporary workers in the EU, and therefore we should do all we can to modify the legislation."

"I think that the Temporary Workers' Directive is a crazy piece of legislation that will destroy jobs in the UK, especially because it is one of the largest destinations of temporary workers in the EU, and therefore we should do all we can to modify the legislation," said MEP Martin Callanan, chairman of the UK Conservatives in the European Parliament.

"We should make sure that it is not gold-plated and make sure that any further treaty changes in the longer term work to that end. I would have thought that now that we are in a recession the rest of the EU will now see how retrograde it is and what a barrier to growth in the EU it is," Callanan concluded.

"I am not going to set out an agenda [for what the UK would demand form a treaty change] today," UK Prime Minister David Cameron told the liaison committee of the UK parliament.

"As I have said, there is some time to go before a treaty would be proposed. Britain has some clear national interests that we need to defend," he went on, adding: "We have a flexible open-trading economy. We have a large and successful financial services industry - other European countries do not and many of them are jealous of it. Those are the sorts of issues that we should be looking at to ensure that we are defending the British national interest."

The UK has already opted out of many European initiatives, including the Schengen Treaty and the social chapter of the Maastricht Treaty. UK Prime Minister David Cameron secured an opt-out on closer economic integration, claiming a victory at his first EU summit in Brussels in June last year.

EU leaders at that summit agreed to greater surveillance and coordination of national budgets.

Cameron said he had secured "a clear agreement" that London's economic sovereignty would not be affected by any changes.

Cameron has resisted pressure from Conservative Eurosceptics to hold a referendum on EU membership as a result of the changes agreed this year to the European financial stability mechanism.

Since the UK is not a member of the euro zone, said Cameron, it was not an issue that fundamentally affected its membership of the EU, and a 'lock' preventing fundamental changes in the relationship between Brussels and Westminster without referendum was therefore inapplicable.

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