UK and France see euro re­form as pos­si­ble ‘win-win’

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Bri­tain and France have agreed that ef­forts by eu­ro­zone na­tions to shore up the sin­gle cur­rency af­ter the Greek cri­sis could go hand-in-hand with wider re­forms the UK needs to stay in the Euro­pean Union, ac­cord­ing to the news­blog Eurac­tiv.

Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron wants as­sur­ances that non-eu­ro­zone EU mem­bers such as Bri­tain will not see their in­flu­ence wane in the wider 28-coun­try bloc as the eu­ro­zone in­te­grates more, be­fore he puts Bri­tish mem­ber­ship (‘Brexit’) of the EU to a land­mark ref­er­en­dum by 2017.

With the prospect of near-bank­rupt Greece’s exit from the zone nar­rowly averted for now, France and Ger­many have floated ideas to strengthen the 19-mem­ber cur­rency union, for ex­am­ple with its own bud­get, “gov­ern­ment” and par­lia­ment.

French Econ­omy Min­is­ter Em­manuel Macron, host­ing Ch­jan­cel­lor of the Ex­che­quer Ge­orge Os­borne, said a “fair set of rules” were needed to pro­tect the in­ter­ests of those out­side the euro.

“We need a fair treat­ment of the ‘out’ coun­tries,” Macron told a joint news con­fer­ence with Os­borne af­ter the two vis­ited a so-called “in­cu­ba­tor” of French high-tech start-ups in Paris’ trendy Marais dis­trict.

“It is the right mo­ment to re­form a lot of things,” he said, adding that he be­lieved that agree­ment be­tween Bri­tain and its EU part­ners in this area was pos­si­ble.

Os­borne said some of the pro­pos­als for eu­ro­zone re­form took it in an “in­ter­est­ing di­rec­tion” but added, “If we are go­ing to see the eu­ro­zone in­te­grat­ing fur­ther, then we have also got to make sure that the in­ter­ests of those who are not in the eu­ro­zone such as the UK are prop­erly pro­tected.”

Nei­ther min­is­ter would be drawn on de­tails of ne­go­ti­a­tions due to take place on the sought-af­ter re­forms or the timetable of a pos­si­ble ref­er­en­dum.

The In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day re­ported that Cameron wants to press ahead with the vote within the next 12 months, with a polling day pen­cilled in for June 2016.

The PM de­flected the ques­tion on a visit to In­done­sia on Mon­day, telling ac­com­pa­ny­ing Bri­tish re­porters, “I’ll just get on do­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tion and then set the date.”

Os­borne said the tim­ing would be de­ter­mined by the sub­stance of a pos­si­ble ac­cord with cap­i­tals such as Ber­lin and Paris, which have sig­nalled they would pre­fer the ques­tion re­solved be­fore they hold na­tional elec­tions in 2017.

“If we have a deal that we can rec­om­mend to the Bri­tish peo­ple be­fore then, then of course we can have the ref­er­en­dum be­fore then,” said Os­borne, reaf­firm­ing the gov­ern­ment’s line.

Bri­tain is seek­ing a batch of re­forms rang­ing from a stream­lin­ing of EU red-tape to mea­sures to safe­guard Bri­tain’s po­si­tion as a global fi­nan­cial cen­tre and more con­tentious ones in­clud­ing cut­ting wel­fare and in-work ben­e­fits to non-Bri­tish EU cit­i­zens.

With French and other of­fi­cials hav­ing said that they would find it hard to ac­cept any­thing that in­volved out­right change of the EU’s treaties, Cameron last month sug­gested that agree­ment to change treaties at a later date could be suf­fi­cient. Macron would not be drawn on whether that too would be a “red line” for Paris, say­ing only, “the process will de­pend on the re­sults of the dis­cus­sions.”

France is tra­di­tion­ally par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive to any at­tempt to roll back EU labour, public health and food safety leg­is­la­tion. It is not yet clear whether Bri­tain will de­mand changes or ex­emp­tions in these ar­eas.

Os­borne was due to hold talks with Fi­nance Min­is­ter Michel Sapin, For­eign Min­is­ter Lau­rent Fabius and Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls while in Paris. Trips to other EU cap­i­tals to make the Bri­tish case are planned in com­ing weeks.

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