EU will discuss calls for reform, says Europe Minister
European Union/United Kingdom/youth policy/workings of the institutions – Interview given by M. Harlem Désir, Minister of State for European Affairs, to the website euractiv.fr (excerpts)
Paris, 18 May 2015
Q. – With the re-election of the Conservatives in the United Kingdom, David Cameron is planning to organize a referendum in 2016 on the UK’s membership of the EU and negotiate new concessions with the EU by then. What is the EU ready to agree to?
THE MINISTER – The British must be heard. We’re going to discuss calls for reform. Everything that can contribute to improving the workings of the EU is in line with the priorities we set for the new Commission. But it must be done without changing the treaties. We won’t agree to the fundamental principles – like freedom of movement – being called into question. I think the British are aware of this: there would be very strong opposition from the vast majority of countries. Embarking on a reform of the treaties would provide no answer to the need for a more effective Europe. It would mean entering into an uncertain process which would take years and be doomed to failure. We’re not ready to call European cohesion into question at a time when there are major challenges to be taken up. We mustn’t let the forces of fragmentation win the day.
Q. – Negotiating opt-out clauses runs counter to the notion of solidarity; isn’t it risky today to negotiate specific new clauses for the UK in the EU?
THE MINISTER – There are already different circles within the EU. The UK doesn’t take part in all the common policies – neither the euro nor Schengen. But we can’t build an à la carte Europe. We think the UK’s place is in the EU, and the fact that Cameron has a broad majority should enable him to persuade the British to maintain this choice. It’s in the interests of Britain and the EU, in the face of major challenges like immigration and the fight against terrorism. To the east of the continent, there’s the war in Ukraine, to the south there’s the war in Syria and Iraq, in the Mediterranean there’s instability, and [there’s] the war in Libya. We can’t respond in a fragmented way, country by country: we need countries to stay in the EU, and we need them all to take part in the common policies and the responses we must implement. Changes to the way things work, on the basis of specific proposals, will be discussed. But it would be a serious mistake to dismantle and unpick Europe. (…)./.