British Tory eurosceptics pose headache for Europe
Polls put the opposition Conservatives on course to oust Britain’s Labour government in an election to be held by next June but the Tories' opposition to the EU's Lisbon Treaty is causing concern in Brussels.Manchester -- Eurosceptics in Britain's opposition Conservatives could cause a major headache for the European Union if, as many expect, they take power at the next election, analysts have warned.
Polls put David Cameron's party on course to oust Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour government in an election to be held by next June, but the Tories' opposition to the EU's Lisbon Treaty is causing concern in Brussels.
"I clearly see a potential for crisis with Europe," said Wyn Grant, professor of politics at Warwick University. "The eurosceptics are very strong in the Conservative party, especially among the people likely to be in the next government."
William Hague, who is expected to be the next foreign minister, is "firmly in the eurosceptic camp", he told AFP, while Cameron himself is "under a lot of pressure" to respond to eurosceptics in his party.
In a speech Thursday to his party's conference in Manchester, northwest England, Cameron was expected to reaffirm his commitment to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if it has not been ratified by all 27 EU member states and he is elected.
This is despite expectations that the treaty will pass into law by the end of the year. Of the two countries that must still ratify it, Poland is likely to sign within days and the Czech Republic expects to do so by year-end.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, gave Cameron a friendly warning over the Lisbon Treaty in comments published Thursday.
He told the Times newspaper he saw him as a "friend" and wanted him to lead Britain but added: "Once he becomes prime minister, he will need friends in Europe to achieve the things he wants to see...
"If everything goes to plan, hopefully we will have everything in place (over Lisbon) for New Year's Eve -- well before any British elections."
The Conservatives have said that if the treaty is already ratified, "we would not let matters rest there", though have not elaborated on what precisely this would mean, prompting a flurry speculation from leading figures.
Conservative mayor of London Boris Johnson has suggested a referendum on individual elements of the treaty, while senior Tory lawmaker David Davis said a separate vote on Britain's ties with Europe could be on the cards.
Daniel Hannan, a eurosceptic Conservative member of the European Parliament, said he expects some kind of action regardless of treaty's status, saying "the priority would be a unilateral repatriation of power" from Brussels to London.
Hannan is on the right-wing of the Conservatives and does not speak for the party's leadership but reports suggest he was instrumental in getting them to pull out of the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament.
While Hannan would like to see Britain leave Europe altogether, Cameron has made clear this is not an option, but wants Britain to take back powers over social and employment issues.
"A British Conservative cabinet would hugely complicate the government of Europe," said Charles Grant, director of pro-European think tank the Centre for European Reform.
"You'll have a government that will probably try to unpick part of the Lisbon Treaty, maybe withhold budget payments, block accession (of new EU member states), who knows? They'll just create problems."
Grant told AFP that Cameron would likely soften his eurosceptic stance if he takes power, but warned this could take some time, saying his first few years in office could be "very disruptive".
Senior Conservatives reject the idea that tensions over their policy and their withdrawal from the European People's Party to form a new anti-federalist bloc in the European Parliament have damaged relations with EU leaders.
Junior foreign affairs spokesman David Lidington said Cameron had met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel "on numerous occasions" and a close working relationship "will develop".
He added: "The reality is that if there is a Conservative government at Westminster, then the governments of the other European countries will know that they have to deal with us, and will want to deal with us."