Germany boosts British hopes for EU reform
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. REUTERS PhotoGerman Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Friday boosted Britain's hopes of renegotiating its position in the EU, saying that non-eurozone members must be legally protected in the event of closer European integration.
In a joint article with British counterpart George Osborne for the Financial Times, Schaeuble wrote: "As the euro area continues to integrate, it is important that countries outside the euro area are not at a systematic disadvantage in the EU."
The pair said any treaty change leading to closer integration of eurozone members must be based on reforms that provide a solid legal base and "guarantee fairness for those EU countries inside the single market but outside the single currency".
British Prime Minister David Cameron is trying to win support for reforms that would hand more powers to sovereign governments ahead of an in-out referendum due to take place in 2017 if he wins next year's general election.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave some backing to Cameron's reform agenda during a red-carpet visit to London in February but warned that it would not be a "piece of cake".
She also urged Britain to stay in the 28-member bloc.
French President Francois Hollande however said outright at a summit with Cameron in January that treaty change was "not a priority".
Cameron has said that as the 18-member eurozone pulls together in the wake of the debt crisis that nearly brought the single currency to his knees, the 10 EU nations including Britain that do not use the euro must not be at a disadvantage.
Germany, Europe's biggest economy, is seeking greater control over the budgets of eurozone nations to prevent a repeat of the crisis that started in 2010.
But its enthusiasm is not shared by others, notably France, while Germany has faced criticism within the eurozone for its adherence to austerity.
Cameron has been counting on Germany and fellow northern European nations to back his efforts to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU, but without much success so far.
Britain is at loggerheads with Brussels on a host of issues ranging from the economy to migration from newer EU members Romania and Bulgaria.
Cameron said on Thursday that he wanted to work with Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands to tighten immigration rules, a key issue for his centre-right Conservative party.
"We'll look very closely if the Germans want to take this further," he told BBC radio.