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UNITED KINGDOM : EXITING EU DOES NOT COME FOR FREE, WARNS VAN ROMPUY.

It is possible for the United Kingdom to leave the EU club, since "we have an exit clause," said European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, but legally and politically it would be a most complicated and unpractical affair. He added that "leaving doesn't come for free".

In a speech delivered in London, on 28 February, on an invitation from the Policy Network think tank, Van Rompuy gave his views on British Premier David Cameron's promise to organise a referendum, by 2017, on whether the UK should stay in the Union after renegotiating the treaties to return certain powers from Brussels to London.

INCONSISTENCIES OF EXIT STRATEGY

Van Rompuy outlined the inconsistencies of this strategy. First, treaty change is not a priority. "We've managed during the past three years to carry out major reforms without treaty changes." He sees no need to open the treaties or much appetite for doing so around the leaders' table. The EU leader also has doubts about the UK's room for manoeuvre and credibility in negotiations between member states. "How do you convince a room full of people when you keep your hand on a door handle?"

This message will probably be disappointing to federalists, who also seek a treaty revision, but to deepen political integration, if only as a result of the new governance of a more advanced economic union. Hammering home his point, the Council president added that "we are not witnessing the birth pangs of a federal Euroland'".

To convince his audience, Van Rompuy mentioned the advantages of EU membership: the UK's concerns on banking union have been taken on board, the multiannual financial framework reallocated resources more towards growth policies, London will be home to the court hearing certain patent dispute cases and a free trade agreement with the United States is on the drawing board. The island's interests are therefore better protected by working from within to bring about reforms.

Taking a more aggressive tack, Van Rompuy noted that "stepping out is not just a matter between London and Brussels". "It impacts the relationship between your country and 26, soon 27 others. With each of them, you'd have to make your case." "I presume that the other heads of government neither particularly like this idea nor particularly fear it."

Recent opinion polls are reassuring. The proportion of UK residents supporting an exit has dropped from 48% before Cameron's speech to 39% recently, and the proportion wishing to stay in the Union has climbed from 31% to 39%.

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Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 4, 2013
Words:416
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