World Bulletin/News Desk
Prime Minister David Cameron's plans to renegotiate Britain's ties with the European Union are wishful thinking and likely to yield only minor concessions that will do nothing to unite his Conservative party, his coalition partner warned on Friday.
In a speech at Thomson Reuters in London, Nick Clegg, Britain's deputy prime minister, launched one of his strongest critiques of Cameron's Europe policy so far as he unveiled his own ideas for reform and set out the case for Britain to remain inside the 28-nation bloc.
"David Cameron started with grand plans for the repatriation of powers (from the EU), then he shifted ground. None of this has anything to do with the real issues - the need for a more competitive EU - it's all about managing internal Conservative party divisions," said Clegg.
If Britain voted to leave the EU in a referendum Cameron is proposing for 2017, it would become less relevant on the world stage and its economic fortunes would suffer, he warned.
"You would see less investment, higher unemployment and I think you would see more widely a kind of sense of macro-economic volatility that might lead to higher interest rates," he said, when asked what Britain would be like outside the EU.
"I would increasingly see future American presidents fly right over London and land directly in Berlin and simply not bother to make regular visits to London because we simply wouldn't be as relevant to our Americans partners."
The robust nature of Clegg's criticism of Cameron's EU strategy is likely to stoke tensions within Britain's two-party ruling coalition ahead of European elections this month. Clegg's party, the Liberal Democrats, is the junior partner to the Conservatives, and polls suggest it could come fourth.
Cameron has promised to try to renegotiate Britain's EU ties and to claw back a range of powers if re-elected next year and to then give Britons a referendum on whether to remain inside the EU in 2017.
Clegg, whose party has styled itself as Britain's most pro-EU force, said the strategy was "never, ever going to work."
"You cannot secure a new settlement for Britain through a one-off negotiation conducted under the threat of exit," Clegg, 47, said in a Reuters Newsmaker event at its London headquarters in Canary Wharf on Friday.
"I have no doubt that he'll be able to agree various minor opt outs and exemptions for Britain with other European leaders. But we wouldn't let the French or Germans pick and choose bits of the single market they like, so the idea that they would do the same for us is wishful thinking."
Cameron has so far garnered only limited backing for his plans among other EU states and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out the prospect of a far-reaching overhaul of the bloc's treaties.
"For historical, geopolitical and economic reasons the case of the UK may be seen as a special one," said Barroso.
The opposition Labour party opposes Cameron's idea of an EU referendum, arguing it creates uncertainty and discourages foreign investment in Britain.
Clegg, a Cambridge-educated former member of the European Parliament who speaks five languages, said the only way to achieve reform was at the negotiating table.
"You fight Britain's corner effectively not by going on a whistlestop tour of Europe's capitals, a list of make-or-break demands in hand," said Clegg. "You do it by engaging with our neighbours, forging alliances with like-minded states and winning the argument."
Clegg, whose party, some pollsters have predicted, could lose all its members in the European Parliament later this month, argued that Cameron had set himself up for a fall.
"David Cameron has set himself on a collision course with his backbenchers because, no matter what repatriation package he negotiates, it will never be enough to satisfy them," he said.
Unveiling his own 10-point plan to reform the EU, Clegg said the Liberal Democrats would push for changes to the EU budget, cuts to red tape, less waste and for more devolved powers for national parliaments.
In 2010, he played the role of a kingmaker after a national election in which no single party won an absolute majority. When asked on Friday whether he would be ready to govern in 2015 with either the Conservatives or Labour he kept his options open.
"It seems to me that in a democracy if no party wins an absolute majority, that the next obvious thing to do is to say that the party that has the strongest democratic mandate ... has the first right, if you like, to seek to form a government.
"Whether the next time that party in that position would succeed in forming a coalition, only time will tell."Last Mod: 09 Mayıs 2014, 15:04