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21st May 2022

British deputy PM: EU veto is 'temporary'

  • Clegg (l) and Cameron: the deputy PM is a former MEP and EU commission official who studied at the College of Europe in Bruges (Photo: number10.gov.uk)

British deputy leader Nick Clegg has predicted the UK will drop its veto on the EU fiscal compact, but urged Brussels not to go too far with reforms.

Speaking to press after a meeting of Liberal politicians at Admiralty House, a historic building in the government district in London, on Monday (9 January), he said: "We believe [the new treaty] should, over time, be folded into the existing EU treaties so you don't get a permanent two parallel treaties working separately from each other."

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He added: "We all see this as a temporary arrangement rather than one which creates a permanent breach at the heart of the EU ... The language gets confusing. 'Veto' suggests something was stopped. It was not stopped. Actually something is carrying on which is a different agreement."

Clegg's remarks come after British Prime Minister David Cameron at a summit last month blocked member states from adding new rules on fiscal discipline to the EU Treaty.

The rest of the Union went ahead with an intergovernmental treaty instead. The latest draft of the text says the new fiscal compact should become part of the EU Treaty "within five years."

Clegg noted that any new agreement should be limited to fiscal reforms instead of rewriting the rules on the single market.

"We don't think it should be drawn to include economic governance. It would be a mistake in our view if we seek to reinvent or duplicate or usurp the single market," he said.

The Admiralty House event included Dutch and Estonian Liberal leaders Mark Rutte and Andrus Ansip, Swedish deputy leader Jan Bjorklund, Danish economy minister Margrethe Vestager and EU economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn.

Rutte and Rehn echoed Clegg that the new agreement should be as limited as possible.

Rutte said a mini-treaty will remove the need for a Dutch referendum: "The kind of treaty which is now being devised is so small and so limited that those who are theoretically in favour of a referendum would, in my view, not have the argument now for a referendum."

Rehn noted that single market reforms are being done through secondary legislation rather than treaty change. "We will do everything we can with the single market through the EU at 27," he said.

The modest scale of the Liberal meeting is a sign of the times, with the vast majority of EU countries currently being governed by centre-right parties.

Meanwhile, Cameron the same day told TV channel Sky News that the changes envisaged in the intergovernmental pact will not fix the big problems in the eurozone.

"You have got to address the fact that there is a lack of competitiveness between Germany on the one hand and many of the southern European countries on the other ... You can't have a single currency with those fundamental competitiveness divides unless you have massive transfers of wealth from one part of Europe to another," he said.

For his part, EU Council head Herman Van Rompuy at a separate event in Copenhagen also on Monday joked that Danish leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who took over the rotating EU presidency on 1 January, is well equipped to bring Cameron back into the herd.

"I have no doubts about the charming capacities of the Danish Prime Minister. They are much greater than mine," he said.

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