French minister: ‘EU won’t bend rules for Tories’

Author: By Estelle Shirbon

The Conservatives have given up on the idea of putting the European Union’s
Lisbon Treaty to a referendum, but pledged to seek the return of some powers
from Brussels to London.

“It is out of the question to reopen negotiations on the treaty,” said Pierre
Lellouche, France’s secretary of state for European Affairs, on the
sidelines of a news conference by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“That would require agreement from the 26 other EU members and I don’t think
for a single minute that will be possible. It was so hard and took so long
(to agree on Lisbon) that these institutions are here to stay, probably for
decades,” he said.

The Lisbon Treaty, which aims to streamline Europe’s creaky institutions and
make the bloc more efficient, can come into force now that Czech President
Vaclav Klaus, a eurosceptic, has signed it after weeks of delay.

Conservative leader David Cameron yesterday announced he had abandoned plans
to put the treaty to a British referendum, but said he would try to obtain
the return of Britain’s opt-out in some areas.

Asked about Cameron’s stance during the press conference, Sarkozy said it was
“extremely positive” that he had given up on a referendum and pointed out
that the existing treaty already contained certain opt-out clauses that
applied to Britain.

“(The treaty) will allow Europe to turn the page on years of institutional
debate that alienated us from the European people, wasted a lot of time and
caused misunderstandings,” he said.

Lellouche, who described himself as France’s most Anglophile minister, said
that Cameron’s speech had made him “sad”.

“My message is simply to say ‘Please, have mercy! Spare us further
institutional debates.’ And I say it with great friendship towards the
British people and towards Britain, which we Europeans need,” he said.

“The economic crisis has shown that we need unity,” he said.

Lellouche said that by quitting the mainstream centre-right alliance of
legislators in the European Parliament in favour of a more radical,
eurosceptic group, the Conservatives had already diminished their own clout
within the bloc.

“The isolation of their group means that their influence is infinitely less
today than it was in the past, and as a friend of Britain, I say: ‘Please do
not isolate yourselves’,” he said.

Lellouche said he did not wish to create a row with the historically
eurosceptic Conservatives but rather to tell them that Britain’s EU partners
wanted a constructive dialogue.

“If the British people choose the Conservatives, we will have to work with
them and for my part, I am ready for it.”

“Europe is made of daily compromises because we all need one another. Of
course it would be easier to go it alone. But in today’s globalised world,
whether you’re a big or a small country, the risk of marginalisation weighs
on all of us.”

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