5th Mar 2021

Britain 'determined' to push for EU reforms

  • David Cameron's government is to hold a referendum on EU membership in 2016 or 2017 (Photo: @Doug88888)

On his first trip to Brussels after the UK election, finance minister George Osborne said that Britain is "determined" to see the EU reformed.

"We come here with a very clear mandate to improve Britain’s relationship with the rest of the EU and to reform the EU so that it creates jobs and increases living standards for all its citizens," Osborne said arriving at a meeting of EU Finance ministers on Tuesday (12 May).

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"We go into the negotiations aiming to be constructive and engaged but also resolute and firm. No one should underestimate our determination to succeed."

Osborne did not officially raise the issue during the meeting but was busy on the sidelines trying to convince EU colleagues of the need for a swift EU overhaul before the membership referendum promised by prime minister David Cameron.

The referendum is to take place by end 2017 at the latest, after an eventual EU deal to accommodate British demands, but there are reports Cameron will try to hold the vote next year.

London has not yet drawn up a list of EU reforms but has hinted at changes to EU migrations rules and welfare benefit claims.

Other proposals are likely to include securing more powers for national MPs, protecting the interests of the City of London, and cutting red tape.

One of the main issues will be whether the changes will need an EU treaty change or can be achieved within the existing treaties.

A treaty change would likely require a formal EU convention and ratifications in several member states - other countries are also likely to draw up their own wishlists.

Osborne’s counterparts gave a mixed reaction to London's EU reform calls.

French finance minister Michel Sapin dismissed the idea of a "so-called renegotiation" leading to a EU treaty change.

"If it’s about discussing the functioning of the EU, this sort of discussion is possible. If it’s about renegotiating treaties, you know the position of France. That’s a completely different matter. In the current context, no treaty change, no constitutional debate," he said.

His German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble admitted that "the opinion of the German government has always been that we need treaty changes, whenever, the sooner the better" but warned that "it is not at all certain that this can be achieved quickly".

Britain’s 27 partners and the EU institutions are now waiting for British precise demands, set to be presented at the next EU summit on 25 June.

Three people in particular will be in charge of the process on the British side.

David Cameron reappointed Philipp Hammond as Foreign secretary and David Lidington as minister of Europe.

Hammond once said he did not rule out voting for a British exit from the EU and is considered to be a eurosceptic, while Lidington, who will be instrumental in preparing negotiations with the EU countries, is said to have good relations with his EU colleagues.

Osborne, for his part, was given the honorific title of first secretary of state, making him the highest ranked minister in the cabinet.


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