Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti has urged his British counterpart, David Cameron, to hold a referendum on the United Kingdom’s future in the European Union, following similar calls by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“There is a problem with Great Britain,” Monti said on an Italian talk show last week.
“I am among those people who say that we need to keep Britain within the European Union. It is in the interests of Britain to remain in the EU and it is in the interests of the EU that Britain remains.”
Monti also suggested that certain European officials, particularly the French, would favor Britain departing the EU.
“In Europe there are some who would feel that their heart would be lighter if Great Britain left the union. I believe some of the French share this view,” he stated.
“I am convinced that we must find a compromise with the British.”
Referring to a recent visit Cameron made to Rome, Monti noted: “Above all, the British… must ask their electorate, not whether they agree or disagree on the latest change that other European countries want to adopt... but pose a fundamental question: Do you want to remain in the European Union or not?”
Since the euro zone financial crisis erupted, a growing chorus in Britain, especially among the Conservative Party, has voiced displeasure with membership in the Union.
Up until now, Cameron has lukewarmly supported EU membership, though he has left the door open for an exit.
Monti is on the record as endorsing UK membership, but he is frustrated by the British as well.
“The English manage to be quite exasperating when they ask [for] -- as a condition for remaining aboard this great European ship -- particular exceptions, particular dispensations, that could amount to making holes in the ship and making it sail less well, if not sink altogether," he lamented.
If Cameron were to put EU membership to vote, a recent survey suggests the majority of Britons would like to “abandon ship.”
A survey conducted by The Independent newspaper found that 54 percent of the British public want the country to leave the EU, as long as close trade links were maintained.
A leading anti-EU Tory MP, David Davis, has demanded such a referendum by early 2014. Davis claims that 90 percent of his party support withdrawing from the union.
“We have reached a turning point in our history,” he said in a speech.
“A decision has to be made. It is critical that this decision is made now. The pressure for an in-out referendum is building.”
Cameron himself has accused Brussels of “picking the pockets” of the British public by the financial demands the union has made on the UK, but he has stopped short of calling for an ‘in-out’ referendum on EU membership.
“Here in the UK I have frozen some benefits, I have frozen people's pay, I have cut some budgets by 30 percent. I have actually cut the police budget by 20 percent,” Cameron said at a recent London business conference.
“I think I have got the people of Europe on my side in arguing that we should stop picking their pockets and spending more and more money through the EU budget, particularly when so many parts of the European budget are not well spent.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.