Britain to drift out of European Union without reforms: PM

Thu Jan 17, 2013 7:25pm EST
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By Andrew Osborn and Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will drift out of the European Union and the European project will fail unless the bloc tackles three serious problems it faces, British Prime Minister David Cameron had planned to say in a postponed speech on Friday.

Cameron delayed the long-anticipated address on Europe at the last minute to deal with the hostage crisis in Algeria. Aides said a new date and venue would be announced later.

He had been expected to spell out his plans to renegotiate Britain's membership of the 27-nation bloc and to promise a rare referendum on any deal he struck. Some politicians said that move could redefine Britain's role in the world, alienate key allies and determine Cameron's own political fate.

Cameron had been planning to say that the EU faces three major challenges: the euro zone debt crisis, faltering competitiveness and declining public support, particularly in Britain.

"If we don't address these challenges, the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit," Cameron had been due to say, according to extracts of his postponed speech released by his office.

"I do not want that to happen. I want the European Union to be a success and I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it."

But, he intended to say there was growing frustration about the widening gap between the EU and its 500 million citizens and that the status quo was untenable.

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Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron holds a news conference during a European Union leaders summit, in Brussels December 14, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Vidal