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After UK election, Cameron's EU referendum worries European states

David Cameron giving his victory speech
David Cameron giving his victory speech REUTERS/Phil Noble

The European Union said Friday it was ready to work with Britain's reelected Prime Minister David Cameron, who has promised to hold a referendum on EU membeship, on reforming its institutions. But the European Commission said key principles including the freedom of movement were not up for negotiation. Several EU member states were worried by the result.

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Cameron’s absolute majority came as a surprise in Europe as a British referendum on EU membership, one of Cameron’s campaign promises, is now on the cards.

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“It is not good news. It creates a lot of additional uncertainty and a real risk of the UK potentially leaving the EU,” says Sony Kapoor, founder of the thinktank Pre-Define that focuses on European strategies.

Kapoor thinks that, even if polls suggest that most Britons will vote to stay in the EU, “the polls were completely wrong on the outcome of the elections, so they are not very reliable”.

He also thinks that the UK won’t have much more space to manoeuvre.

“Cameron has promised that the referendum will be preceded by concessions from the European Union," he told RFI. “And, realistically, the UK will not get any concessions, because the UK already has a very special deal from the EU."

The British election results does not herald the beginning of the end of the European project, according to Kapoor.

“I think it is premature to go that far but it would be also ridiculous to think that the European project is not in serious trouble,” he says, adding that economic problems in Greece and the rise of the far-right Front National in France make things even worse.

In Germany business circles have warned against a possible “Brexit”.

“It would be a disaster, for Europe and also for the UK,” says Wolfgang Renzsch, of the University of Magdenburg.

He thinks that the status of London as one of the world’s financial centres may change and that Britain won’t have the same level of access to European markets any more.

“They could still remain a member of the European Economic Area but that would mean that the British would have to comply with European rules without being in a position to decide about these rules,” he says.

However, Germany will do its utmost to keep the UK inside the Union. “[German Chancellor Angela] Merkel's position would be to keep the British in.”

Meanwhile, in Greece, which is trying to cleara 360-billion-euro debt to creditors in the EU, there was relief that the leader of the anti-European Ukip party, Nigel Farage, failed to win a seat.

“It proves that that the extreme right wing and anti-Europeans don’t make a chance without a legal basis such as a referendum,” says Angelis Angelopoulos, president of the European Movement Greece.

But he sees the results as ‘symbolic” at the eve of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. “It proves we have to be very careful in how we interpret solidarity for all the member states.”

In EU memberstate Poland, which, as a Warsaw Pact member, was under direct Soviet-Russian influence for decades, there is particular concern that the EU may be weakened as a result of the latest UK vote.

“We are afraid of such a referendum,” says Marcin Swieciski, member of parliament for Civic Platform.

“Small events may influence the outcome of it and that can be dangerous.”

He suggests that London must be open its citizens’ concerns but it should not take the form of a plebiscite.

“We hope this is impossible and that any correction that is necessary within relations between UK and the EU will be carried out within the existing treaty,” he says.
 

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