Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tories under fire over EU plans



LONDON — David Cameron vowed to take back powers from Europe, sparking a scathing response Thursday from a French government minister.

Confirming his party would no longer hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, Cameron said he would seek to stop the "steady and unaccountable intrusion" of the European Union into British law if he wins the next general election.

Cameron, whose Conservative party holds a commanding lead in polls over Labour, said he did not want a "massive Euro bust-up" over his plans, revealed in a speech Wednesday.

But French Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche slammed the plans as "pathetic" and accused the Conservatives of marginalising Britain within the EU.

"It's pathetic. It's just very sad to see Britain, so important in Europe, just cutting itself out from the rest and disappearing from the radar map," Lellouche told the Guardian.

"They are doing what they have done in the European parliament. They have essentially castrated your UK influence in the European parliament."

Cameron's speech comes after he pulled his party out of the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament, a move that sparked derision from the Labour government and concern among many in Europe.

Cameron explained that his party had no choice but to abandon a "cast-iron guarantee" to hold a national vote on the European Union's reforming Lisbon Treaty following its ratification Tuesday by the Czech Republic.

But in a bid to reassure the eurosceptics in his party, he promised to negotiate the return of powers from Brussels to London.

The issue of Europe has caused destructive splits in Conservative ranks since the days of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

Over five years, Cameron said the Conservatives would secure opt-outs on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and certain social and employment legislation, and also limit the power of the European Court of Justice in Britain.

Cameron also pledged to change British law so that any future transfer of powers to Brussels under the Lisbon Treaty must be approved by parliament, and any other treaties would be subject to a referendum.

The Lisbon Treaty is designed to streamline the running of the EU bloc, which has almost doubled in size to 27 nations since 2004.

Cameron insisted "we will not rush into some massive Euro bust-up" to achieve the changes, promising to "negotiate firmly, patiently and respectfully" with the other 26 EU member states.

But Lellouche said the Conservatives have no hope of securing EU support. "It's not going to happen for a minute. Nobody is going to indulge in rewriting (treaties for) many, many years," he said.

Conservative foreign affairs spokesman William Hague insisted Lellouche's comments did not represent the true European reaction.

"I don't think you will find that's representative of the reaction in Paris or other European capitals," he told the BBC.

Newspapers said Thursday Cameron had appeased most hardline eurosceptics in his party with the plans. But Member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan announced on his blog he was quitting his post as Conservative legal affairs spokesman to campaign for a referendum on Europe.

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