By Martin Kelly
David Cameron’s plan for a wholesale reform of the UK’s membership of the European Union has been dealt a blow after French President Francois Hollande refused to support the UK PM.
In private meetings with his UK counterpart, the French President made it clear that France would not agree to try to force concessions from the EU in order to help the Conservative leader pursue his own “domestic agenda”.
Without the support of France, any hopes of significant EU reform look unlikely – even with support from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The stance by the French President is a major blow to Mr Cameron who is under pressure from his own Eurosceptic backbenchers and some cabinet members to adopt a tough stance with Brussels. Mr Cameron has pledged to hold an in/out referendum on the EU should the Tories win the next UK General Election.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, a highly placed French source said: “Referendums are major gambles which can backfire, as they did with Chirac and the constitution. Francois Hollande has warned David Cameron in private about the risks he is taking here.
“We do not want the UK to leave the EU. We understand the reasons why you are not in the eurozone or part of Schengen, but the UK actually outside the EU is unthinkable.
“We know why Cameron is promising to campaign for change – he has to because of his problems with his own party and his domestic agenda. But Francois Hollande has made it clear to him that France will not agree to anything that does not suit France’s interests.”
The warning from France of the dangers of leaving the EU follows similar warnings issued by Japan and the USA.
Last month Japan warned that thousands of UK jobs would be put at risk if the UK left the European Union.
In a statement, Tokyo said: “The government of Japan … is committed to making its relationship with the EU stronger than ever before. In this context, it expects that the UK will maintain a strong voice and continue to play a major role in the EU. The UK, as a champion of free trade, is a reliable partner for Japan.
“More than 1,300 Japanese companies have invested in the UK, as part of the single market of the EU, and have created 130,000 jobs, more than anywhere else in Europe. This fact demonstrates that the advantage of the UK as a gateway to the European market has attracted Japanese investment.”
Japan’s intervention followed similar comments from US President Barack Obama in May.
Speaking after a meeting with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the US President broke with protocol and publicly called on the Conservative leader to sort out the mess that he said was threatening the UK’s EU membership.
Speaking at a press conference, Mr Obama said: “Ultimately the people of the UK have to make decisions for themselves. But I will say this: the basic point is that you probably want to see if you can fix what is broken in a very important relationship before you break it off. It makes some sense to me.”
The European Union has become one of the key areas of the Scottish independence debate with those opposed to a Yes vote insisting that an independent Scotland would lose its membership of the EU and forced to re-apply.
However the SNP and other pro-independence campaigners have insisted that Scotland’s EU membership is at risk by remaining in the Union at the mercy of Mr Cameron’s in/out referendum and growing anti-European sentiment south of the border and the rise of UKIP.
The Scottish government has insisted that Scotland will remain a member of the EU immediately after a Yes vote and negotiate its independent membership in the period before independence is fully ratified.