Finland’s Finance Minister Alex Stubb has backed the British government’s agenda of reforming the UK’s relationship with Europe, calling the Conservative Party’s demands deliverable and constructive.
Speaking after a meeting in Helsinki with British Chancellor George Osborne on Monday, Stubb said eurozone states must be stopped from distorting the EU’s single market in pursuit of their own interests.
“The UK economy is one of the biggest in the EU,” he told the Financial Times. “Some kind of solution will have to be found.”
Stubb said the bloc must also address the UK’s immigration concerns, noting that Britain is one of the few EU states that had opened its borders to Eastern Europe in 2004.
“This has had consequences for the NHS, education and social security systems,” he said.
Cameron’s Conservative government, which was re-elected in May, this time with a majority, aims to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership and relay the settlement to Brits via a national in-out referendum by the close of 2017.
Osborne had previously said he would use his one-day trip to Sweden, Finland and Denmark to focus on protecting non-euro nations’ rights as eurozone states push ahead with closer economic integration.
Among the policy changes the Conservative government is demanding are economic reforms, restrictions on welfare benefits for foreign workers and a more concrete role for domestic parliaments in EU-wide policy-making.
Stubb, who is one of the more vocal finance ministers in the eurozone, offered Osborne his support.
Reflecting on the demands, Stubb said the Tories’ approach to Europe would ensure Britain’s membership of the European Union remains intact.
“It’s a very constructive approach, results-orientated, problem-solving,” he told the Financial Times.
“It’s a path that will ensure UK membership for the foreseeable future.”
Osborne’s warm reception from Stubb could spark concern among certain Tory MPs that the government has not set the negotiation bar on Europe high enough. Ex-Health Minister and Tory MP Andrew Lansley recently said Cameron would “choreograph” a row with France to convince voters he had pushed hard for a fair deal.
Although Denmark, Sweden and Finland back the Tory agenda of seeking economic reforms across the EU, Stubb has previously been critical of UK attitudes to Europe. But following the meeting with Osborne on Monday, the Finnish finance minister said the EU would not survive in the absence of Britain.
While some EU leaders have warned against treaty reforms to accommodate the Tories’ wish to restrict benefits for migrant workers, Stubb said such changes would prove seamless if executed through “a directive or legislation.”
He also stressed the importance of protecting EU states outside the single currency.
Despite Stubbs’ positive appraisal, certain politicians in Nordic states are reluctant to address EU reform against a backdrop of a worsening global migrant crisis and EU economic uncertainty.
Osborne has taken an increasingly central role in Britain’s attempt to renegotiate the UK’s EU membership in recent months. He is due a series of visits to foreign states ahead of October’s EU summit in Brussels.