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US voices concern for UK’s EU renegotiation plans

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-01-10

As British Prime Minister David Cameron prepares to call for a “new settlement” with the EU which would likely go to a referendum, the Obama administration has warned that it values the UK’s “strong voice” in the economic bloc.

The Obama administration has expressed concerns over plans by British Prime Minister David Cameron to renegotiate the UK’s position within the European Union, with a senior official saying the US valued a “strong British voice” in Europe.

US Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Philip Gordon comments published Thursday come as Cameron is preparing a speech that will probably be given in the Netherlands in the coming weeks in which he is expected to commit to a referendum on his country’s EU membership.

Although it is unlikely any such poll would give voters a straight “in or out” choice, Cameron is under pressure from a growing Eurosceptic wing of his Conservative party to give the option of a complete withdrawal.

Other members of his party, including London Mayor Boris Johnson, want Britain to negotiate a trade-only agreement with the EU.

Gordon told reporters Thursday that the US had “a growing relationship with the EU as an institution, which has an increasing voice in the world - We want to see a strong British voice in that EU.”

Warning that referendums “have often turned countries inward”, he also cautioned against endless wrangling for a renegotiated deal.

“Every hour at a summit spent debating the institutional make up of the European Union is one hour less spent on how to deal with the common issues of jobs, growth and international peace around the world,” Gordon said.

Fears in the business community

Cameron’s plans for a “new settlement” -- which include scrapping of the working time directive and excluding non-British EU citizens from receiving benefits  -- have also raised concerns in Britain’s largely pro-European business community.

On Wednesday leading business daily the Financial Times published a letter from Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, London Stock Exchange head Chris Gibson-Smith and eight other business leaders that warned against Cameron’s plan to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership.

While saying the British government was right to call for reforms to the EU budget and single market, a more radical negotiation “would almost certainly be rejected”.

“To call for such a move in these circumstances would be to put our membership of the EU at risk and create damaging uncertainty for British business, which are the last things the prime minister would want to do,” they said.

During its 40-year membership of the EU, the UK has benefited from access to the huge European market -- which takes about two thirds of the country’s exports -- while giving London a say in how the bloc should govern itself and its financial markets.

But amid the crippling financial crisis, distrust of the EU among voters has been growing and many Britons now see the EU as inefficient, overly bureaucratic and meddling in British affairs.

Closer EU integration

Cameron is not opposed to remaining in the EU. But while other member states are pushing for much closer integration and giving greater central power to Brussels, the pressure from his party members and the public to resist is growing.

According to leading City economist Jeremy Batstone-Carr of London-based Charles Stanley, Cameron is stuck between the interests of the pro-Europe business community and the demands of eurosceptic Conservatives and voters who are increasingly cynical of the EU.

“It’s impossible to work out what’s going on politically,” he told FRANCE 24. “It’s a highly emotive issue which has polarised opinion in the UK and will continue to do so.

“Despite the EU recession -- which is bordering on depression -- Europe remains an important market and it is impossible to ignore that the existing relationship matters."

“But if Sterling continues to weaken through 2013, as expected, this will provide a natural boost to exporters and weaken the pro-Europe argument."

On Wednesday, Cameron told Parliament he was confident that the relationship could be successfully renegotiated.

“We’re active players in the European Union but there are changes we would like in our relationship that would be good for Britain and good for Europe,” he said.

“I think, because of the changes in the eurozone, which are driving a lot of change in the European Union, there’s every opportunity to achieve that settlement and seek consent for it.”

 

Date created : 2013-01-10

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