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U.K.'s Cameron sets out European vision

By HANNAH K. STRANGE, UPI U.K. Correspondent

LONDON, March 7 (UPI) -- A future Conservative government would set Britain on a path away from ever-closer union with Europe and reclaim powers back from Brussels to London, Conservative Party Leader David Cameron said Tuesday.

Speaking at the Foreign Press Association in London, Cameron set out his vision of Europe as little more than a free-trade zone with most regional cooperation taking place on an intergovernmental level rather than through the centralized mechanism of the Union.

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"My party and I believe in an open-trading, flexible Europe, it's about cooperation, not about a superstate," he said. "It's not about becoming a country called Europe."

Europe needed a new approach, he said, citing high levels of unemployment.

He explained his controversial decision to pull the Conservatives out of the European People's Party, saying it did not make sense to belong to a party which believed in a European constitution, ever-closer ties and "ever-closer moves towards a federal situation." Staying in the party when the Conservatives did not agree with it over key questions would create a "running sore," he added.

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"It's a matter of consistency and clarity, but I don't think it means we'd have bad relations with center-right leaders in Europe," he said, reporting positive meetings with French Prime Minister Nicholas Sarkozy. "I look forward to good bilateral relations with other center-right leaders elsewhere in Europe."

He said there were opportunities for cooperation with the EPP over areas such as terrorism and crime, the Lisbon Agenda -- "anything we agree about, but we don't agree about the future architecture of the European Union, we don't agree about the sort of Europe it's going to be."

Cameron acknowledged the decision had caused a considerable amount of concern but said it was a "change for the better" and would strengthen the Conservative Party's position and relations with other center-right parties in Europe.

It was better to be "a friendly neighbor than a reluctant tenant," he added.

The Conservatives were trying to form a new group of center-right parties that shared similar views on the future architecture of Europe, he said.

"There are people on the center-right in Europe who don't agree that the future of Europe is a European constitution, the increasing transfer of more and more powers from nation states to the center.

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"And as Europe widens, as you get countries from central and Eastern Europe coming in, with center-right parties of slightly different traditions, I think there are parties who take that view quite strongly, and which share our views on free trade, on markets, on the importance of the transatlantic relationship."

Such countries also saw the importance of remaining a collective of nation-states rather than heading towards a superstate, he said.

Cameron said he would stem the tide of powers being transferred from London to Brussels, and would work to reclaim some powers, particularly control over social and employment legislation.

"In an age where we need this dynamic economy - we've got to compete with India and China -- it makes no sense to have our social and employment legislation determined centrally by Brussels. I think this is something which should be done at the national level."

Cameron said he believed it had been a "damaging" mistake for Britain to relinquish its opt out on the European Social Chapter, for which it had clearly got "nothing in return." He would fight for the opt-out to be reinstated, he said.

"That's not to say we're against employment protection but it's something that should be decided in Westminster with reference to our own traditions and culture," he added.

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He said he was seeing "positive change" in Europe, with more leaders, for example German Chancellor Angela Merkel, coming around to a similar position on the sovereignty of nation states on such regulatory issues.

Free trade, a single market and opening national markets to other member states were "hugely important in a globalized world," he said.

There was also room for cooperation on crime, terrorism, the environment and where possible, foreign policy, he said. However this was best done at an intergovernmental level rather than through "some treaty architecture."

Cameron made clear he would not attempt to pull Britain out of the European Union.

"I want to be part of the European Union (but) I want that European Union to change, I think it's clear that it needs to change, just look at the referendum vote on the constitution."

Neither would he try to bring back responsibility for trade to London, he said.

"Trade policy is decided in Europe and I don't propose to change that. But I want a Conservative government, the British government to be a force that argues for liberalization and open markets."

He criticized the European Commission's attitude towards globalization, which he said veered towards protectionism.

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"I don't believe that Peter Mandelson (the EU trade commissioner) is currently taking the right approach towards globalization," he said. "There's a stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off mentality in too much of what he does. The role for the British government is to argue in Brussels that we should be promoting free trade and open markets, and making the best of globalization rather than believing it's going to be the end of us."

Cameron also hinted that he believed the European project as it currently stands would ultimately fail, saying "there was life before the EU and there will be life after the EU."

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