After the Prime Minister urged “fundamental reform” of EU institutions, his Liberal Democrat deputy delivered a dire warning that renegotiating treaties would cause paralysis.
Only “populists, chauvinists and demagogues” would benefit if mainstream politicians became locked into “arcane” discussions rather than focusing on economic recovery, Mr Clegg insisted.
Mr Clegg was speaking after the Prime Minister’s annual foreign policy speech to the Lord Mayor of London’s banquet.
During his address, Mr Cameron called for a looser EU, with “the flexibility of a network, not the rigidity of a bloc”.
Mr Cameron – who pointedly described himself as among the “sceptics” on Europe – acknowledged that the immediate priority for the EU was restoring growth and tackling the debt crisis.
However, he said the crisis also offered an opportunity to undertake fundamental reform and address long-standing problems afflicting the EU.
Mr Cameron said that while he wanted to see powers to “ebb back” to Britain, for the EU as a whole it was a chance to ask: “What kind of Europe do we actually want?”
At a press conference yesterday, Mr Clegg admitted he disagreed with Mr Cameron on Europe. “Clearly the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, and David Cameron and myself, think differently on European issues.
“I am not going to provide a running commentary on the Prime Minister’s speech … but the danger always is that the debate becomes very quickly polarised between one side which says this is the moment to rush headlong towards further integration, new treaties … new arcane debates about EU powers, and another side that says this is the moment to unravel the whole thing.
“I don’t think either side have got their priorities right. The priority now is jobs and growth, jobs and growth.”