Osborne says EU treaties must protect non-euro members

3rd November 2015, Comments 0 comments

British finance minister George Osborne called Tuesday for EU treaties to be changed to prevent discrimination against non-euro countries as he visited Berlin seeking support for London's reform demands.

Britons do not want to be part of the 28-member bloc's "ever-closer" union, Osborne said during a visit to flesh out some key demands ahead of a referendum Britain will hold on whether to stay in the EU by the end of 2017.

"The current European Union arrangements are ... not suitable for countries that aren't in the euro, like Britain," said Osborne at a business forum also attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"Indeed, the fact that the treaties simply assert that the euro is the currency of the EU shows that it does not reflect the reality of a Europe of many currencies today."

Merkel reiterated her view that "the UK should remain a member of the European Union" and pledged that the EU's top economy would seek to help to prevent a "Brexit".

She conceded Britain has "justified concerns" on competitiveness and streamlining the EU, but, careful not to meddle, stressed that "of course the decision isn't up to us, it is up to the British".

"We will do what we can, the rest is up to the Britons to decide, and I hope they decide in a way that strengthens Europe as a whole," Merkel said.

- 'More than one currency' -

British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on EU membership and to campaign to stay, provided he can obtain reforms that would loosen Britain's ties with the rest of the EU.

He is expected to unveil his long-awaited demands in an open letter to EU president Donald Tusk next week, amid growing impatience from his European partners.

Britain's Europe Minister David Lidington warned against expecting too much detail, telling reporters in London: "My advice to the prime minister has always been: don't publish a detailed negotiating position."

Osborne, Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, said London wants EU treaty change to safeguard the rights of non-eurozone countries, to protect its taxpayers and its crucial financial sector and acknowledge that "the EU has more than one currency".

He stressed that future EU reform must "put euro area integration on a sound legal basis and guarantee fairness for those EU countries inside the single market but outside the single currency".

In return, London would not seek to block euro members as they seek closer economic and financial integration.

"Quite frankly, the British people do not want to be part of an ever closer union," Osborne said.

He also said taxpayers in non-euro countries must never be asked to bail out stricken eurozone members, speaking a day after meeting his German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble.

"This is exactly what was attempted in July, when, out of the blue, in flagrant breach of the agreement we'd all signed up to, and without even the courtesy of a telephone call, we were informed we could have to pay to bail out Greece. That would have been grossly unfair."

- 'Pick up the pace' -

It has now been two and a half years since Cameron announced his intention to hold the referendum.

There has been increasing frustration at Cameron's refusal to spell out exactly what he wants despite the launch of technical talks with the EU in June, as European leaders plan to discuss the issue in December.

Cameron has previously said London's demands will cover four general areas: an opt-out from the bloc's drive for an "ever-closer union"; economic competitiveness; protecting countries that are not in the euro; and curbing welfare for EU migrants to Britain.

Osborne said Britain does not want to be burdened with excessive EU regulation, adding: "We need to pick up the pace, make Europe more competitive, make us the home of jobs and innovation."

Osborne stressed that the European idea of ever closer union is widely interpreted in Britain "as a commitment to ever-closer political integration" and now supported only "by a tiny minority of voters".

"I believe it is this that is the cause of some of the strains between Britain and our European partners," he said. "Ever closer union is not right for us any longer."

© 2015 AFP

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