Cameron under new pressure to dilute EU ties
LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron came under renewed pressure to loosen his country's ties with the European Union on Wednesday, two days ahead of a major speech in which he will spell out plans to renegotiate Britain's membership of the EU.
As different interests jockey to influence the content of his speech, which some politicians believe may end up reshaping Britain's role in the world, a group of influential lawmakers in Cameron's own ruling Conservative party published a list of areas where they want decision-making brought back to London.
The fact that the group, who represent about one third of Cameron's parliamentary party, drew up the "Manifesto for Change", illustrates how much pressure Cameron is under from within his own party, the senior partner in a two-party coalition, to dilute Britain's four-decade-old EU links.
Cameron will deliver his speech - one of the most closely-watched Europe addresses by a British leader since World War Two - in Amsterdam on Friday, a choice meant to underline the fact that some other EU member states such as the Netherlands are sympathetic to many of his policies towards the bloc.
He is expected to say he will offer a referendum on any new settlement he manages to hammer out with the EU, probably in 2018. His prospects of success are uncertain, however, as it is unclear whether some other EU member states, notably Germany and France, will go along with his plan.
Andrea Leadsom, a Conservative MP and one of the group's founders, said she thought Cameron's proposed EU renegotiation strategy and the specific ideas her own group was pushing were realistic.
"In our manifesto we are very carefully treading a fine line between calling for things that are just going to be a non-starter, where the rest of Europe will say 'just forget it', and choosing those topics that are really important to Britain, that would really be a game-changer for Britain's relationship with the EU," she told BBC radio.
Areas where the MPs, who call themselves the Fresh Start group, would like to see powers clawed back include large swathes of employment, social and criminal justice law. They are also pressing for an "emergency brake" on new laws that could affect Britain's powerhouse financial services industry, and are demanding that the EU's agriculture and fisheries budget be overhauled.
The MPs are also asking Cameron to withdraw Britain from the EU's "regional policy" which sees EU funds handed out to poorer regions, and to press him to restrict the rights of future immigrants from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria.
Though Cameron says he is adamant he wants his country to remain a member of the 27-nation EU, senior allies such as George Osborne, the finance minister, have been more ambiguous suggesting the EU must reform itself if London is to stay in it.
Cameron faces pressure from another less influential wing of his party to back away from his renegotiation plans. Ken Clarke, a minister without portfolio, warned the premier against diluting Britain's influence in a newspaper interview on Wednesday.
David Miliband, a member of the opposition Labour party and a former British foreign minister, sounded a similar note of caution as did Nigel Sheinwald, Britain's former ambassador to the United States.
Prominent business leaders have also told Cameron not to damage ties with the EU, Britain's biggest trading partner.
France in particular appears anxious about Cameron's EU policies.
"It's up to the British to say what they want to do," French Europe Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told Reuters.
"The single market has given a lot to the British, but they have also given a lot to the single market. It is not in the interests of the single market to see the British leave. And the British know very well it is not in their interest to leave the single market."
Cameron is expected to brief Conservative members of his cabinet on the contents of his speech on Wednesday, but will exclude ministers from his junior coalition partner - the Liberal Democrats.