BRUSSELS – Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for a new deal to keep Britain inside the European Union won little support Wednesday as fellow leaders, mindful of the potential fallout.
“We can’t have Europe a la carte,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. “Imagine the EU was a soccer club: Once you’ve joined up and you’re in this club, you can’t then say you want to play rugby.”
Fabius’ boss, French President Francois Hollande, said it is not possible to negotiate Britain’s membership terms. “The United Kingdom can perfectly well decide in a referendum to stay in or leave the European Union; that’s a decision for the rulers of the country and the British people themselves,” he said. “But what I say on behalf of France, and also as a European, is that it is not possible to negotiate Europe for this referendum.”
Though EU officials in Brussels welcomed Cameron’s declared willingness to fight to keep London in the bloc after months of talk of “Brixit,” or British EU exit, even London’s traditional allies in Northern Europe appeared to give Cameron the cold shoulder.
Saying she hopes Britain will remain a part of the bloc, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said “we believe that Danish interests are best served by staying as close to the EU core as possible. A strong EU is in the clear interest of Denmark.”
In Vienna, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann had harsh words for Cameron, saying he is drawing Britain into isolation due to his inability to compromise. “This is not serious politics,” he said. “It is not in the interests of the citizens or the economy of Europe, nor that of Britain’s citizens or its economy.”
In his much-publicized speech, Cameron vowed that if he is re-elected he will renegotiate the terms of London’s notoriously troubled EU membership, taking and picking what the bloc has best to offer.
If a new deal is won, increasingly sceptical Britons would be asked to vote by late 2017 on whether to remain in the bloc.
Apparently extending a hand to Cameron, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany is ready to discuss Britain’s “wishes” on the EU, but in almost the same breath she warned that caving in to one country would mean caving in to another. “We are of course ready also to talk about British wishes, but one must keep in mind that other countries also have other wishes and we must in the end always find a compromise,” she said.
Picking and choosing the bits and pieces of EU legislation that seem most attractive to a nation simply can’t work and would set a dangerous precedent, warned European Parliament President Martin Schulz.
“I suspect that Prime Minister Cameron with his referendum announcement is playing a dangerous game for tactical, domestic reasons,” he said. “It could lead to piecemeal legislation, disintegration and potentially the breaking of the union.”