CHANCELLOR George Osborne will face an uphill battle when he meets with French government ministers in Paris today as part of a renewed effort to drum up support for Prime Minister David Cameron’s European Union reform agenda.
The chancellor arrived in the French capital yesterday ahead of meetings with top officials, including finance minister Michel Sapin, foreign minister Laurent Fabius and economy minister Emmanuel Macron.
But Macron has repeatedly attacked the Prime Minister’s renegotiation efforts, saying in an interview with the BBC last month that Cameron cannot create a “sort of EU a la carte.”
“Creating more flexibility and more simplicity for all member states is fine but starting to create more simplicity for one member state is just dismantling,” he said.
Meanwhile, Fabius has called the Prime Minister’s proposals “very risky” and “quite dangerous,” even invoking a sporting metaphor to explain his opposition to a so-called “Brexit”: “One can’t join a football club and decide in the middle of the match we are now going to play rugby.”
Yet Treasury officials say that the chancellor – who also holds the title of first secretary of state – will use the meetings with his French counterparts to “present a positive vision for the future of the EU and the UK’s place within it”.
The Paris trip is the first of many visits Osborne is expected to make to EU capitals over the next six months, emulating Cameron’s whistle-stop tours to woo EU leaders earlier this year.
Cameron has promised an in/out vote on the UK’s membership in the EU before the end of 2017, but has yet to set a specific date. It was reported yesterday, however, that the Prime Minister has pencilled June of next year for the vote, with an official announcement expected at October’s Conservative party conference, according to the Independent on Sunday.
Lauren Fedor, Lynsey Barber