June 19, 2013
Van Rompuy tells Britain: leaving EU 'not free'
One of Europe's most powerful officials cautioned Prime Minister David Cameron today that leaving the European Union could cost Britain dear and that the bloc's other leaders do not want to renegotiate Europe's founding treaties.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said Britain had a chance to play a leading role in building the European economy now the euro zone had the "artillery" of economic tools to get itself out of the worst crisis in its history.
But Van Rompuy laced his speech in London's financial district with a clear warning to Cameron: Europe will not countenance any attempt by Britain to win an a-la-carte membership, picking and choosing which of the European Union's rules it will follow and which to reject.
"Leaving the club altogether, as a few advocate, is legally possible," he said. "We have an 'exit clause.'
"But it's not a matter of just walking out. It would be legally and politically a most complicated and unpractical affair. Just think of a divorce after 40 years of marriage."
"Leaving is an act of free will and perfectly legitimate but it doesn't come for free," he said in a speech to bankers and politicians at the Guildhall, an 800-year-old institution that is a symbol of British merchant power in the City of London.
Cameron has promised to try to claw back powers from the EU and put any new settlement to voters in an in-out referendum by the end of 2017, heightening fears that Britain could leave the club it joined 40 years ago, in 1973.
"The wish to redefine your country's relationship with the Union has not gone unnoticed," said Van Rompuy, a former premier of EU founding member Belgium. "I cannot speak on behalf of the other presidents and prime ministers, but I presume they neither particularly like it, nor particularly fear it."