Institutional Affairs

  • Sikorski: 'Great Britain [has become] ... a country of special concern' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Poland: UK no longer a leading EU country

25.01.13 @ 09:23

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Britain has lost its place in the club of leading EU nations with France and Germany over its plan to hold a referendum on EU membership, the Polish foreign minister has said.

"The Prime Minister [the UK's David Cameron] has shifted his country's position in the EU hierarchy. From a country which was a natural member of the triumvirate capable of ruling the EU, Great Britain has moved to the category of a country of special concern, which should be treated with care in case it does something unwise, harms itself and leaves the Union. It means the group which holds power in the Union will have a different shape," Radek Sikorski told Poland's Tok FM radio station on Thursday (24 January).

He said Poland could take Britain's place over the next decade.

"We would have to continue reforms and join the eurozone, then we could be the ones in the group of three, or five, countries which have the biggest say in the EU," he added.

Sikorski's remarks are Poland's first reaction to Cameron's plan to hold an in/out referendum on the EU by the end of 2017.

The Polish minister - an Anglophile, who studied at Oxford University - said Poles "like, respect" the UK and share its free market outlook.

He noted the referendum will not take place if Cameron loses the next election.

He also said Cameron's two conditions for holding the vote - renegotiating the EU treaties and repatriating some EU powers to the UK - "seem unlikely to happen."

But he added that - referendum or no referendum - the British leader has shown he wants no part in further EU integration.

"Cameron said very clearly: 'We're not interested in a political union, we want to take care of our own interests and retreat to our island.' But the rest of the continent does want political union because it's indispensible to save the euro and to protect our place on the world arena," Sikorski said.

"Great Britain can retreat to its island. But it's in our [Poland's] interest to permanently safeguard our membership in the Latin civilisation, so we need tighter ties with the rest of Europe, not looser ones," he added.

Sikorski was more critical of Cameron than muted statements by Germany or Italy in the past few days.

But the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, was the most provocative.

"If the UK decides to leave the EU, we will roll out the red carpet to businessmen [who want to leave the UK]," he said on Wednesday.

Cameron has popular backing in the UK despite his detractors.

A poll published in British daily The Times on Thursday said 40 percent of people would vote to get out of the EU, while 37 percent would vote to stay in.

The referendum plan is also causing ripples in other EU countries.

A survey published by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on Friday said 52 percent of Danes want to stay in the EU, but 47 percent want Denmark to renegotiate EU relations.