Did UK’s Cameron Say What Everyone Was Thinking?
After causing widespread consternation among his European Union (EU) partners with a speech calling for the EU to change, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has appeared politically isolated. However, support for his position appears to be growing, at least in some quarters within the EU.
The Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told CNBC on Wednesday that Sweden and the U.K. held similar objectives.
"I think it's true that in some ways we are like-minded in terms of getting the internal market to work better, to get free-trade agreements with growing parts of the world economy. We are also very like-minded in the need for job creation and increasing our competitiveness," Reinfeldt told CNBC in Davos, where he is attending the annual World Economic Forum (WEF).
In a speech on Wednesday, David Cameron promised the British public a referendum on EU membership should his Conservative party win the next national election in 2015.
"Cameron is trying to say, 'This is the way to stay inside the European Union and I'm ready to fight for it' which I think is welcome," Reinfeld said. "If David Cameron is willing to take more of the advantages [of EU membership] to the British people then we'll have a more balanced picture of the U.K. inside Europe – because that's where we want them."
"I want a stronger Europe but that doesn't mean more concentration of powers to Brussels."
"I always dislike politicians that say 'more Europe' when all they mean is 'more power for politicians in Brussels'. I've never heard that from my voters living everyday lives," Reinfeld said, echoing Cameron's warning that the British public were questioning the point of EU membership.
(Read More: Young Brits Support EU as Politicians Squabble)
He added that it was important that countries of all size felt that they had influence over policy and mutual respect for each other was essential.
"This is how we should now treat David Cameron – he has said he has a lot of concerns, so let's try to be practical, flexible and see if we can meet these discussions…quite often there is a balanced solution."
Opposing the 'Choir of Critics'
Polish prime minister, Petr Necas also said he agreed with Cameron's calls for a "more flexible, more open" EU.
Poland was the only other country, apart from the U.K., to not sign the fiscal compact – a move towards greater EU fiscal union, aimed at enforcing budget rules in Europe.
(Read More: Europe Signs Up to German-Led Fiscal Pact)
Poland's foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said on Wednesday that Britain will not leave the EU and Cameron should not be criticized. "Poland should not join the choir of critics," he told a Polish radio station according to a Dow Jones report.
Sweden and the Netherlands have also allied themselves with Britain over proposed EU budgetary increases. Sweden has been skeptical over conceding powers to a European Central Bank banking supervisor.
Like Britain, Sweden is ambivalent over EU membership. According to a poll by the statistical agency YouGov, 39 percent of Swedes said they would vote to leave the EU compared to 48 percent of Brits.
Fifty-six percent of Swedes were pessimistic about the future of the EU, a close second after Britain where 65 percent of respondents held the same views.
The Storm Before the Calm
Cameron wants Britain to renegotiate its relationship with the EU, including repatriating powers from the 27-nation bloc and having "opt-outs" on EU policies. He said that if the EU didn't change, it risked a loss of competitiveness, economic decline and also, risked alienating Britain as it "drifted" towards an exit.
The British prime minister was rebuked by a number of European leaders who called the U.K.'s stance isolationist and selfish, ignorant and dangerous.
The French foreign minister Laurent Fabius quipped that "if Britain wants to leave Europe, we will roll out the red carpet for you", while his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle said Britain could not treat Europe like an "a la carte" menu, saying: "Cherry-picking is not an option."
The European Commision's vice-president in charge of competition policy, Joaquin Almunia, told CNBC on Wednesday that although he agreed with some of Cameron's points, it was risky for the U.K. to leave the EU.
"Cameron has some good ideas, for instance I fully agree that Europe should be more competitive…but you can't pick and choose, Europe is a common project it has a common purpose and all the members should stick to this purpose," Almunia said.
"I see the risk for the British authorities to be less influential if they are not participating in discussions at the European Council or Commission," he said.
Did UK's Cameron Say What Everyone Was Thinking?