LONDON: Prime Minister David Cameron's drive to win a "new settlement" for Britain in Europe suffered an immediate setback on Friday when France said the European Union (EU) would not allow the UK to renegotiate its membership terms.
After Cameron told fellow EU leaders Britain would demand a new deal in return for allowing euro members to forge closer union, he was slapped down by the socialist president of France, François Hollande, who declared that Europe was "for life."
He told a press conference: "To repatriate (powers)? Usually when a country commits, it is for life. I believe that treaties are meant to be complied with. This discussion could take place, but Europe is not a Europe in which you can take back competences. It is not Europe à la carte."
His remarks are a clear warning that Britain would not secure an opt-out from the EU's social chapter of employment rights, which its partners now regard as a permanent and necessary balance to the single market. They do not want to hand the UK the competitive advantage of cutting its labour costs.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, may be prepared to make some concessions to the UK during talks on a new treaty on full economic and monetary union, but EU diplomats said they would be limited. For example, Britain might win an opt-out from the EU directive on maximum working hours, but there was no prospect of letting it leave the entire social chapter or common fisheries policy -both key Eurosceptic demands.
"Cameron is raising expectations that can't be fulfilled," one EU source said. Another added: "If he tables a long list of demands to repatriate powers, then all the other 26 members will do the same … What he wants is not going to happen."