Europe is ‘for life’, Francois Hollande tells David Cameron in EU power spat
By Tim Ross, and Bruno Waterfield in Brussels
2:27PM GMT 14 Dec 2012
The French President, Francois Hollande, declared that Europe is not “a la carte” like a menu from which member states can pick and choose their powers.
He issued his rebuke to the Prime Minister as Mr Cameron insisted he would fight for a “better deal for Britain” and seek to take back certain powers from Europe.
The Coalition is conducting a comprehensive review of all the powers that the EU has over life in Britain, ranging from business and employment rules to the criminal justice system.
The review will determine which powers Mr Cameron seeks to claw back from Brussels when the next EU treaty is written, setting out closer political and economic links between the 17 countries in the euro.
However, Mr Hollande indicated that he would attempt to block Mr Cameron’s demands to “repatriate” powers in any proposed new deal for Britain.
Speaking to reporters at the European Council summit in Brussels, the French Socialist leader said: “To repatriate? Usually when a country commits it is for life.
“I believe that treaties are meant to be complied with. This discussion could take place but Europe is not a Europe in which you can take back competences. It is not Europe a la carte.”
Downing Street was not impressed by the French President’s intervention. A Number 10 source said: “It’s wrong to say you can’t repatriate powers. There’s no clause written down anywhere that says this can’t be done.
“Indeed, this Government has already returned the bailout power from the EU and the last EU Treaty provided for the UK to return powers on home affairs and justice if we choose.
“The point is that there needs to be flexibility to ensure that the interests of all EU members are respected. And clearly as the eurozone seek changes to allow for the closer integration they need, so others can seek changes to advance their interests too.”
Mr Cameron is under pressure at home to offer voters a referendum on Britain’s future relationship with the EU. A substantial proportion of his Conservative colleagues want a popular vote on whether the UK should quit Europe altogether.
Bill Cash MP, the chairman of the Commons European scruntiny committee, today warned that Mr Cameron was walking into a political storm by failing to take Tories with him on Europe.
“He’s got Ukip and all the opposition in the party. He is on a collision course and he is not dealing with it,” he said.
The Prime Minister has said that he favours remaining in the EU while stripping Brussels of control over large swathes of British life.
Germany has indicated that it is prepared to discuss British desires to repatriate powers to prevent Mr Cameron calling a straight “in-out” referendum.
On Friday, as the summit in Brussels concluded, the Prime Minister said he would continue to press for a better deal for Britain as the 17 countries in the eurozone agree to move towards full economic union with shared rules on tax.
Mr Cameron told reporters this would see the eurozone countries lose some of their individual sovereignty, a key reason why he would never allow Britain to join the single currency.
“One shouldn’t underestimate the very real difficulties and discussions that there are,” he said.
“These debates about sovereignty are one of the reasons why Britain has never joined and I believe Britain won’t ever join the single currency, certainly not while I am prime minister.
“But these debates about sovereignty and control are debates they are going to have to have. My point in my remarks is, as this plays out, this is changing the European Union.
“As it changes the European Union and the eurozone make changes that they need, so I believe there are opportunities for others, including Britain, to make changes ourselves.”
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is among a number of eurosceptic Conservatives who believe it is “morally wrong” for the eurozone countries to surrender their sovereignty over tax and spending to a centralised power.
Mr Cameron believes that it is inevitable that a single currency will require closer political and economic links between the eurozone states.