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25th Sep 2021

Cameron tries to save face on mooted treaty change

  • 'Limited treaty change' is the magic formula to avoid years-long wrangling on the legal text (Photo: European Commission)

A 'limited treaty change' will allow Britain to 'advance its agenda', British PM Cameron said Sunday (23 October) after failing to stop EU leaders from putting the idea on the table, one day before a key vote in the UK parliament.

Backbenchers from his own party are pushing for a referendum bill on Monday, which would have Britons vote on the EU membership of their country or renegotiate its terms. Before becoming prime minister, Cameron was fiercely opposed to the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty without a referendum.

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He has since postponed any referendum perspective to future EU treaties. But a reference in the EU summit conclusions on Sunday is complicating Cameron's tightrope balance on the issue.

According to the final text, EU leaders will "explore" the possibility of a "limited treaty change" in December, so as to deepen economic integration and "fiscal discipline" in the eurozone.

"Feeding into the debate tomorrow, I don't think this is the right time to legislate for an in/out referendum [of the EU] - this is the right time to sort out Europe's problems, defend your national interest and look at the future opportunities to repatriate powers back to Britain," Cameron told journalists at a press conference after the meeting.

He noted that a "limited treaty change", as the one agreed earlier this year on the establishment of the permanent bail-out fund (European Stability Mechanism) requires the unanimity of all 27 member states and allows Britain to "defend its national interest."

"The last limited change on the European Stability Mechanism gave us the opportunity to get out of the euro bail-out fund that the last government had opted into," he said, adding that his government wanted to ensure that the UK was not involved in the Greek or any other future bailout from 2013 on.

With the involvement of the International Monetary Fund, however, of which the UK is a member, British contribution to the eurozone bailouts will continue.

Meanwhile Cameron was on collision course with French President Nicolas Sarkozy during the summit over the issue of keeping non-euro members a part of the decision-making process, particularly when it comes to issues such as financial services or the internal market,

Cameron said he spoke "openly" about the "danger" of eurozone countries taking decisions that impact non-euro EU states, Sweden and Poland were also insistent on not being left out, he said.

A second EU summit of all 27 member states will now take place on Wednesday evening, ahead of the final eurozone meeting, meant to seal the deal on the second Greek bail-out, bank recapitalisation and the boosted bail-out fund.

He admitted there was a back and forth discussion on whether the meeting of all 27 should be ahead or after the eurozone leaders' gathering, but in the end agreed that having it before was the better solution. It was better to "feed in" ideas before the meeting rather than "having to unpick what had been agreed, which could be damaging for the markets," he explained.

"I'm not frustrated because I'm not in the euro and I don't want to join. If we were, we had to be more involved in things like the Greek bail-out," Cameron noted.

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