Osborne starts off EU reform roadshow in Paris

George Osborne

George Osborne [HM Treasury/Flickr]

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer was expected to push the case for European Union reform on Monday (27 July) as he kicked off a European roadshow with a trip to Paris amid reports London could hold its referendum on EU membership as early as June next year.

George Osborne will meet counterpart Michel Sapin, but also Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as Britain tries to drum up support for a reformed European bloc still reeling from the Greece crisis.

Britain wants to play a “leading role within a reformed EU,” Osborne was expected to tell French ministers, as Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party has pledged to campaign in favour of staying in the 28-country club.

The referendum Cameron has pledged to hold on EU membership is “an opportunity to make the case for reform across the EU,” Osborne will say, according to remarks released in advance.

The trip to Paris is the first in a series of visits Osborne – a close Cameron ally – will make to various European capitals, British officials say.

He will argue that with public support for reform rising across the EU, now is the time to deliver lasting change.

Osborne will be pushing to make the EU a more “competitive and dynamic continent” to deliver “prosperity and security for all of the people within it, not just for those in Britain.”

“I want to see a new settlement for Europe, one that makes it a more competitive and dynamic continent to ensure it delivers prosperity and security for all of the people within it, not just for those in Britain.”

The minister’s visit came as the Independent on Sunday weekly reported that the referendum on Britain’s membership could come as soon as June 2016.

Downing Street declined to comment on the report, which also said Cameron will offer more details on the timing of the closely watched vote at the annual Conservative Party conference in October.

The Independent on Sunday reported Cameron had opted for an earlier poll to stop the question of Britain’s membership becoming a campaign issue in French and German elections in 2017.

Recent polls have shown a majority of Britons want to stay in the EU although any referendum on the issue is expected to be tight.

US President Barack Obama said in a recent BBC interview that having top ally Britain in the EU “gives us much greater confidence about the strength of the transatlantic union.”

Some lawmakers were angered by his intervention in the debate, saying he was lecturing Britain.

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?

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