MENAFN - Arab News
UK to hold referendum on EU Germany warns
(MENAFN - Arab News) Germany wants Britain to remain a full member of the European Union but London cannot expect just to pick and choose the aspects of membership that it likes, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said yesterday.
Westerwelle was speaking shortly after British Prime Minister David Cameron promised in a long-awaited speech to give Britons a straight referendum choice on whether to stay in the EU or leave, provided he wins an election due in 2015.
"Germany wants the United Kingdom to remain an active and constructive part of the European Union... But cherry picking is not an option," Westerwelle told reporters, adding that Europe needed more, not less, integration.
Prime Minister Cameron earlier promised to hold a referendum by the end of 2017 giving British people the choice of staying in or leaving the EU if his party wins the next election.
In a long-awaited speech in London, Cameron said he wanted to renegotiate the terms of Britain's troubled membership of the European Union before putting the new agreement to the people in a vote.
British people would face a "very simple choice" - either to accept the outcome of the negotiations or to leave the EU altogether after four decades of membership.
"It is time for the British people to have their say," he said.
Cameron pledged that if his party wins an outright victory in the general election in 2015, it would hold a referendum during the first half of the new five-year Parliament, by the end of 2017.
He said disillusionment with the EU in Britain was "at an all-time high" and it was essential to reform the way it worked.
If such reforms were not ushered in, Britain could "drift" out of the 27-member bloc, he warned.
But if he managed to secure terms that he was happy with, Cameron said he would campaign "heart and soul" for Britain to remain within the EU, which it joined in 1973.
He said the European bloc was grappling with problems in the eurozone, "a crisis of European competitiveness" and the gap between the EU and its citizens had "grown dramatically in recent years."
"If we don't address these challenges, the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit," he added.
Cameron has faced intense pressure from the eurosceptic right wing of the Conservative Party to take a stand on Europe, an issue that has long divided the party.
A leading Conservative eurosceptic, Daniel Hannan, hailed the speech as "the most significant I've heard by a British prime minister in 40 years of (EU) membership." But Cameron's promise to hold a referendum drew immediate warnings from Britain's main European partners.
"We can't have Europe a la carte," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius insisted. "Imagine the EU was a football club: Once you've joined up and you're in this club, you can't then say you want to play rugby."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Berlin wants Britain to be an "active" EU member but that membership was an all-or-nothing proposition. "Cherry-picking is not an option."
In a speech that he had originally planned to give in Amsterdam last Friday before the Algerian hostage crisis intervened, Cameron said his party would start renegotiations after the next election, provided it wins.
"The next Conservative manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next parliament," he said.
"And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in-or-out choice to stay in the EU on these new terms, or come out altogether. It will be an in-out referendum."
Cameron said a rethink of Britain's membership was essential because British people resented the intrusion into national life of unnecessary rules and regulations set by the EU.
The prime minister said he understood the "impatience" of those who want to hold a referendum immediately, but insisted the time was not right now.
"I don't believe that to make a decision at this moment is the right way forward, either for Britain or for Europe as a whole," he said.
Explaining why he wants to wait, Cameron said the crisis among the countries who use the euro -- Britain is not one of them - would leave the EU transformed "perhaps beyond recognition" and Britain wanted to help shape the future of the bloc that emerges from it.
His insistence on holding a referendum with a stark in-or-out choice will create friction with his current coalition government partners, the pro-Europe Liberal Democrats.
The leader of the main opposition Labour party, Ed Miliband, said the speech showed Cameron was "a weak prime minister, being driven by his party, not
by the national economic interest".
It will also dismay some business leaders, who have warned the referendum pledge risks creating uncertainty which will harm Britain's economic prospects.
But John Walker, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, told AFP: "It has brought some clarity even if it's a bit long into the future... at least now we know."
Close ally the United States has also warned Britain against isolating itself from the EU.
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