David Cameron will leave on Thursday for his first overseas visits as Britain’s new prime minister — travelling to Paris and Berlin for trips expected to be dominated by the tensions in the eurozone.
Mr. Cameron, who last week took over as leader of Britain’s new Conservative—Liberal coalition, was due to hold talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on Thursday evening, before travelling on to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday.
Downing Street said it was Mr. Cameron’s aim to establish a “positive and pragmatic” relationship with the two major European partners which have, traditionally, not always been easy.
Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform (CER), said that — now in government — the Conservative leader was likely to come across as being “much less euro-sceptic than people feared”. The timing of the visits was especially interesting.
“The euro crisis is prising apart Franco—German relations. It is a great opportunity for Britain to lead in Europe, if it has the ideas and a constructive attitude,” Mr. Grant told the BBC on Thursday.
However, speaking in London before his departure, Mr. Cameron signalled his opposition to German proposals to seek amendments to the Lisbon Treaty in the light of the current upheavals in the eurozone.
“There will be no further transfers of powers in this way,” Mr. Cameron said, adding that his government was committed to holding national referendums on any further treaty changes.
The point was emphasised by David Lidington, Europe minister in the Foreign Office.
Asked about the prospect of a referendum if there were to be revisions to the Lisbon Treaty, Mr. Lidington said: “We will look at what the Germans propose ... The first thing we’ve got to establish is, what it is that the German Chancellor has in mind. The prime minister will be discussing that with her”.
“I don’t think there’s a great appetite, not just in Britain, but in the rest of the European Union, for further treaty change after the very long, drawn—out and controversial process of Lisbon,” he added.
Officials have said that, while Britain is not part of the eurozone, its economy cannot remain immune to the current problems. More than 50 percent of British exports go to European Union (EU) countries.
Apart from European issues, which in the case of France is expected to include future possible defence cooperation and the new British government’s nuclear energy policy, Afghanistan, Iran and the G8 and G20 meetings in Canada next month would be discussed.
For his part, Mr. Cameron was expected to be asked by both Ms. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy to commit British funds to EU bailout programmes and show greater willingness to regulate markets.
The two European leaders are also certain to express their long—held concerns about Mr. Cameron’s decision to take Britain’s Tories out of the centrist European People’s Party (EPP) grouping in the European Parliament, in favour of a more fringe grouping of nationalist member of the European parliament.