LONDON (Reuters) - One of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s advisers has likened the European Commission to a golf club that insults its members, saying it is “raising the temperature” in Britain’s debate over Europe.
In comments that reflect the ruling Conservative party’s desire to renegotiate its terms of membership of the 28-nation European Union if re-elected next year, Andrea Leadsom said member states had to take greater control and impose checks and balances on the unelected Commission, the EU’s executive.
“The EU needs to understand that if it wants to have a future it needs to appreciate matters of principle, democracy, the right of taxpayers, the rights of sovereign governments,” Leadsom, a Conservative lawmaker and a member of Cameron’s policy board, told Reuters in an interview.
She said the EU had to be overhauled to recognize the bloc was a multi-currency union with different tiers of membership that allowed some states to forge ahead with policy ideas if they wanted to while respecting the right of others to opt out.
Under pressure from eurosceptics in his own party and from the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) ahead of European elections in May and a national vote in 2015, Cameron has promised to try to repatriate some powers from the EU if re-elected and to give Britons an in/out EU referendum.
EU officials and leaders of member states such as France have poured cold water on the idea that the EU treaties could be re-opened anytime soon to accommodate such reform.
Leadsom, who said the criticism of Britain was fuelling UKIP’s popularity, targeted Laszlo Andor, a European Commissioner who angered Cameron last year by saying the UK leader’s desire to make it harder for EU nationals to claim welfare benefits risked presenting Britain as “a nasty country”.
“If I‘m the president of some very posh golf club and I insult my members in that way that’s just not what we do in the private sector is it? Unless we want the entire golf club to shut down,” she said.
Leadsom said the Commission was playing into the hands of those who wanted out of the EU.
”All they’re doing by taking this attitude of ‘you’re clearly wrong’ (on EU reform) is to raise the temperature.
“Instead of taking seriously the legitimate concerns of taxpayers they just insult them ... Their job, their survival relies on the munificence of the member states.”
She said deeper integration needed to make the euro zone function better meant treaty change was inevitable and that the reform ideas that Britain was pushing would benefit all member states.
“Banking union leads to fiscal union and in order to do that you cannot simply tinker with the institutions.”
Germany would try to draw out the process, she added.
“They will keep spinning it out as long as they possibly can because it’s utterly politically unacceptable to the Germans for them to talk about the end game, which is euro zone fiscal integration. In the end, the markets will decide.”
Far-reaching reforms could be agreed at a political level beforehand without treaty change, she said.
One idea she advocates is a “red card” allowing member states to reject Commission proposals and force it to retrospectively examine legislation.
This could be used to tackle the EU’s freedom of movement rules and its working time directive, she suggested, saying it would not require treaty change.
Leadsom said she and others had travelled across Europe and found a “huge appetite” for Britain’s reform ideas.
She cited Germany, France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands as countries that were keen - to a varying degree - on some of her ideas.
Editing by Mike Peacock