UK can't 'cherry pick and choose powers to claw back from Brussels', EU president warns Herman Van Rompuy said the EU would fall apart quickly if countries were allowed to pick and choose powersHe said if UK departed it would ‘see a friend walk off into the desert’David Cameron is expected to call for
renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU next month
23:19 GMT, 27 December 2012
Herman Van Rompuy said the European Union would fall apart quickly if countries were allowed to pick and choose which powers they wanted to keep
David Cameron will not be allowed to ‘cherry pick’ powers to claw back from Brussels, the EU president has warned.
In a major blow to the Prime Minister’s strategy, Herman Van Rompuy said the European Union would fall apart quickly if countries were allowed to pick and choose which powers they wanted to keep.
Mr Van Rompuy said he wanted Britain to stay in the EU, adding that the UK’s departure would ‘see a friend walk off into the desert’.
But he insisted that he would block Mr Cameron’s bid to secure a better deal for Britain if it involved repatriating significant powers to Westminster.
Mr Cameron is expected to call for renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU when he makes his long-awaited speech on Europe next month.
The Prime Minister is expected to say that a referendum will be held only when the negotiations are completed – probably some time after the next election.
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said yesterday that discussion of a referendum before the eurozone crisis has been resolved was ‘putting the cart before the horse’.
The Lib Dem leader, whose 2010 manifesto pledged to hold an in/out referendum on Europe, said he now disapproved of the idea and that talk of a referendum was premature and amounted to no more than ‘political shadow boxing’.
‘What we really should be doing is just focusing on the kind of economic firestorm at hand, working co-operatively to help them to put out the fire in the eurozone and to come out of this phase of economic emergency,’ he said in yesterday’s Guardian.
‘I think to have a referendum, kind of about nothing very much in particular, when you’re in the middle of an emergency repair job to your own economy and European economy, is putting the cart before the horse.
It’s an exercise of political shadow boxing to try and anticipate a process of which we’re not one of the principal authors and then start now prescribing how we should react to it.’
A poll, also in yesterday’s Guardian, found that euroscepticism is growing among voters.
More than half of those polled by ICM, 51 per cent, said they would vote to take the UK out of the EU if a referendum took place tomorrow.
In autumn 2011, when ICM asked the same question, opinion was already leaning in the anti-European direction, by 49 per cent against 40 per cent.
However, Mr Clegg said that past prime ministers from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair had offered ‘extraordinary leadership’ in the EU, and that Britain should once again put itself at the forefront of developments.
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said yesterday that discussion of a referendum before the eurozone crisis has been resolved was 'putting the cart before the horse'
Ministers have already started a review of which EU powers should be repatriated as part of any renegotiation package.
But Mr Van Rompuy told today’s Guardian: ‘If every member state were able to cherry pick those parts of existing policies that they most like and opt out of those that they least like, the union in general, and the single market in particular, would soon unravel.
‘All member states can and do have particular requests and needs that are always taken into consideration as part of our deliberations. I do not expect any member state to seek to undermine the fundamentals of our co-operative system in Europe.’
Mr Van Rompuy said sweeping changes to the governance of the EU could even be brought in without a fresh treaty in order to avoid referendums in member states – leaving Mr Cameron with no leverage to demand concessions for Britain.
In a separate interview Germany’s powerful finance minister Wolfgang Schauble said Britain would struggle to make itself heard in the world if it quit the EU.
Mr Van Rompuy’s comments suggest that Mr Cameron’s hopes of a major renegotiation may be dead in the water before they have even started.
Tory MP Douglas Carswell said last night that the EU president’s ‘arrogant’ comments underlined the need for an early in/out referendum on Europe. ‘What Van Rompuy calls cherry picking most people would call self-government,’ Mr Carswell said.
Tory MP John Baron stepped up calls for legislation enabling a referendum to be put in place before the next election.