The French Minister of State for European Affairs yesterday ruled out his country’s support for any British renegotiation of European Union treaties ahead of the promised referendum on membership. He insisted that the basic principles of the EU, specifically referencing free movement of workers, are not up for negotiation and “the British know this.”
Harlem Désir, First Secretary of the Socialist Party in France, told EurActiv “we have to listen to the Brits. We will discuss their proposed reforms” but noted that the scope for manoeuvre is limited by other member states, continuing:
“…it has to be done without amending the treaties. We will not accept any reconsideration of our basic principles, like freedom of movement. I think the British know this. There would be strong opposition in the majority of states.”
Désir said reforming EU treaties would not improve Europe but rather “open an uncertain process, which would take years and be doomed to failure.” He expressed his opinion that European cohesion should not be risked at a time of major international challenges like immigration and terrorism as well as wars in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine, warning that “the forces of fragmentation cannot be allowed to win out.”
Whilst EU rule change is still possible without amending the treaties – for example EU leaders could issue a decision with binding force under international law that effectively post-dates treaty change – reforms won in this way are unlikely to be significant enough to satisfy British eurosceptics.
Adding fuel to the argument that the outcome of any renegotiation, regardless of impact, will be sold to the UK as a victory for the government to champion during the referendum campaign, Désir added:
“We think the United Kingdom’s place is in the EU, and the fact that Cameron now has a majority should allow him to convince the British people of this.”