Britain vows to exact price in return for euro support

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Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to win concessions for Britain at the crunch EU summit starting Thursday but he is likely to find his European partners in no mood for British intransigence.

In Brussels, Cameron will be in the tricky position of fighting for Britain's interests while the 17 eurozone members -- of which his country is not part -- focus their attention on saving the single European currency.

The prime minister made clear in parliament on Wednesday that if Britain is asked to back a new European Union treaty to breathe new life into the euro, he intended to exact a high price in return.

"The more that countries in the eurozone ask for, the more we will ask for in return," Cameron said in a weekly question and answer session.

He repeated his threat to veto any treaty change by the 27-member EU if Britain fails to receive "safeguards" from its European partners, particularly for the City of London financial services hub.

The City -- Europe's financial services centre and crucial to the British economy -- fears moves from Britain's European partners to impose new rules that it believes will affect its ability to operate.

Cameron has said the City is "under constant attack" from European directives and described it as "a key national interest that we need to defend".

Chief among the City's concerns is a proposal for a tax on financial transactions, something that the EU's power couple, Germany and France, have already accepted in principle.

Finance minister George Osborne has described such a tax as "a bullet aimed at the heart of London" and argues that Britain would only consider adopting it if the United States and all its G20 partners do likewise.

Cameron's sabre-rattling did not impress his EU partners as the clock ticked down to the crunch summit.

One EU official in Brussels dismissed his vows as "purely for the use of domestic politics" and warned that Britain's partners would demand a spirit of "compromise" when they get down to the serious business on Thursday and Friday.

A senior European diplomat went further, describing Britain as the "real problem".

If Britain demands an opt-out on European moves to tighten the regulation of financial services "it would be unacceptable", the diplomat added.

The prime minister is also facing calls from within his own Conservative Party and its resurgent eurosceptic wing to hold a referendum on any treaty change -- calls that he has so far resisted.

Adding to the pressure, London Mayor Boris Johnson, seen as a potential future rival for Cameron's job, said Wednesday that if Britain was asked to sign up to treaty change, "if we felt unable to veto it, then certainly it should be put to a referendum."

Cameron's centre-right Conservatives lead a coalition government with the europhile, centrist Liberal Democrats and came to power in May last year.

© 2011 AFP

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