By Julia Fioretti and Andrew Osborn
LONDON Feb 14 European Commission President
Jose Manuel Barroso told Britain on Friday to engage with the
European Union rather than turn its back on it, saying London
should fight to try to change the things it doesn't like.
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to try to
renegotiate Britain's ties with the 28-nation bloc if re-elected
next year and to offer Britons an in/out referendum on EU
membership by late 2017.
Barroso was visiting Britain ahead of European elections in
May in which the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) is
expected to do well and at a time when opinion polls show a slim
majority of Britons would vote to leave the EU.
"The right thing to do is not to turn away but to engage and
see what we together can do to make it better," Barroso said in
a speech at the London School of Economics. "If you don't like
Europe as it is, improve it."
Barroso ruled out any attempt to change the EU's rules on
freedom of movement, something Cameron has said he'd like to do
to stop the citizens of new EU member states from tapping
Britain's welfare benefits.
Barroso, who is stepping down after a decade at the helm of
the EU executive, said such attempts would be like shooting
Europe in the foot.
"An internal market needs all these freedoms, if not we are
shooting ourselves in our feet," he said. "We cannot have a
single market without the free movement of European citizens."
By underscoring the importance of free movement at a speech
in the British capital, Barroso was seeking to send Cameron a
message on freedom of movement.
"It was a message that we are not going to compromise on the
principle of free movement - this is a big thing in relation to
David Cameron's position which seems to be that there has got to
be compromise. I would see some divisions looming there,"
Anthony Giddens, director of the London School of Economics from
1997 to 2003, told Reuters.
END OF EURO CRISIS?
When asked about the euro zone sovereign debt crisis,
Barroso said: "The existential crisis of the euro is over."
"When our American partners and friends, including by the
way the American president, asked at the most difficult moments,
'Do you think the Germans will stand by the euro?' I have always
said to them: 'I am absolutely sure Germany will stand by the
euro'," he said.
Barroso praised Germany for its determined support of the
euro, evidence, he said, of Berlin's deep strategic allegiance
to the European project.
In a question and answer session following his speech,
Barroso was asked whether Germany, which has resisted
mutualising public debt in the euro zone, would eventually drop
its opposition to the idea.
"As to (debt) mutualisation, it is something that Germany
will not say no (to) at a later stage," Barroso said, adding he
felt German acceptance of mutualisation would come gradually.
"There is already a principle of mutualisation but it is
progressive mutualisation only at the end of the process, when
all the countries have their own fund for resolution and not
before," he said.
"So yes, I believe ... fiscal union will come at the
appropriate time for the members of the euro area ... it will
take time," Barroso said.