Britain's prime minister said Wednesday he will offer citizens a vote on whether to leave the European Union if his party wins the next election, prompting warnings from fellow member states about the soundness of such a move.
Claiming that public disillusionment with the 27-nation EU is "at an all-time high," David Cameron used a long-awaited speech in central London to say that the terms of Britain's membership in the bloc should be revised and the country's citizens should have a say.
Cameron proposed Wednesday that his Conservative Party renegotiate the UK's relationship with the European Union if it wins the next general election, expected in 2015.
"Once that new settlement has been negotiated, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice to stay in the EU on these new terms. Or come out altogether," Cameron said. "It will be an in-out referendum."
EU member states, which in the run-up to the speech stressed the importance of Britain's presence in the bloc, took a sharper tone after Cameron spoke.
Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said Cameron was playing "a dangerous game," accusing him of trying to appease his increasingly anti-European Union Party and shore up support...
Much of the criticism directed at Cameron has accused him of trying an "a la carte" approach to membership in the bloc and seeking to play by some but not all of its rules.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned Wednesday that a British withdrawal from the EU would be dangerous for both the bloc and Britain...
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said his country wants Britain "to remain an active and constructive part of the European Union."
He would not say if he would rule out renegotiating terms with Britain, but he suggested that countries could not be allowed to write their own terms for EU membership, saying "a policy of cherry-picking won't function."
Cameron stressed that his first priority is renegotiating the EU treaty - not leaving the bloc. "I say to our European partners, frustrated as some of them no doubt are by Britain's attitude: work with us on this," he said...
Cameron insisted Wednesday that a "one size fits all" approach to the EU is misguided. Britain, a fiercely independent island nation, has always had a fraught relationship with the bloc. It benefits from the single market but is among 10 of the EU countries not to use the euro as its currency.
"Let us not be misled by the fallacy that a deep and workable single market requires everything to be harmonized, to hanker after some unattainable and infinitely level playing field," he said. "Countries are different. They make different choices. We cannot harmonize everything."
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