Back the EU or risk isolation, Poland warns UK

24.09.12 @ 10:04

  1. By Benjamin Fox
  2. Benjamin email

BRUSSELS - Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski has called on Britain to abandon its "false consciousness" of euroscepticism and take the lead in EU decision-making.

  • Sikorski in Blenheim: 'Please don't expect us to help you wreck or paralyze the EU' (Photo: msz.gov.pl)

Speaking at the Global Horizons conference at Blenheim palace near Oxford on Friday (21 September), the Oxford-educated Sikorski said Britain's hostility towards the EU is based on "myths."

"[The UK] is living with [a] false consciousness ... your interests are in Europe. It's high time for your sentiments to follow," he told the meeting.

Calling for Britain to take a stronger position on shaping EU policy, Sikroski noted that the EU: "is an English-speaking power. The Single Market was a British idea. A British commissioner runs our diplomatic service. [And] you could, if only you wished, lead Europe's defence policy."

The Polish government sees itself as a natural ally of Britain's in the EU. Both are outside the eurozone and have close relations with the United States.

But Sikorski warned Britain not to undermine the 27-country bloc. "If you refuse, please don't expect us to help you wreck or paralyze the EU," he said.

He also highlighted the economic benefits of EU membership, saying that the EU single market is worth between £1,500 (€2,000) and £3,500 per year to British households.

Sikorski dismissed the idea, floated by some eurosceptics, that Britain's size and trading muscle could see it negotiate more favourable trading terms with the Union.

He warned that while 50 percent of the country's trade was with other EU countries, the UK only accounted for 11 percent of EU trade: "While you are an important market for the rest of the EU ... [There are] no prizes for guessing who would have the upper hand in such a negotiation."

The Pole's pro-European speech comes as the UK's political party congresses get underway.

In two weeks Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to come under further pressure from his party to call an 'in/out' referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.

With the eurozone still struggling to deal with the sovereign debt crisis and with further centralisation of economic decision-making, a large number of British MPs want to see Cameron secure opt-outs from a several EU policy areas by renegotiating the terms of Britain's EU membership.

Last week, Nigel Farage, the leader of Ukip, which campaigns for British withdrawal from the EU, told his party conference that he would be prepared to enter into an informal election pact with the Tories on condition of an 'in/out/ referendum.

But he insisted that any deal on a referendum would have to be "sealed with blood." The party, which Farage helped launch in the early 1990s, believes that it might top the British polls in the European elections in 2014.

Conservatives are anxious to target Ukip voters, which tend to be mainly former Tory supporters.

While Ukip got 12 MEPs into the European Parliament in 2009, it has none in the House of Commons, but Conservative strategists are worried it could win a string of marginal seats and increase the chances of a Labour victory in the next British elections, expected in 2015.

A survey by pollsters YouGov in 2012 said most Britons want EU reform, with 67 percent backing the idea of holding a referendum on EU membership and just 19 percent opposed. Forty two percent say they would vote to stay in and 34 percent said they would vote to leave.

In 2011, the UK government also passed a "referendum lock" bill which ties it to a referendum on any future EU treaty involving the transfer of powers from national level to Brussels.