By Tim Montgomerie
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Last week I reported The Economist's contention that the EU17 – the Frankfurt Group of €urozone members – would form a breakaway group if countries like Britain sought "too much" repatriation in return for agreeing to fiscal integration of the €urozone. The Telegraph's Bruno Waterfield develops this story this morning. "Angela Merkel," he writes, "has warned Mr Cameron that unless he accepts unconditional changes to the Lisbon Treaty a split will take place, leaving Britain isolated and in a voting minority within the EU."
Is Britain about to fold? According to Nick Watt at The Guardian, the PM has assured Angela Merkel that Britain will only make "modest" demands in return for the 17 amending EU Treaties. Nick Watt's precise words are: "The Prime Minister indicated that Britain accepts the need for treaty change and will table relatively modest demands. The repatriation of social and employment laws will be for a later treaty negotiation."
There is a case for only making modest demands. The 17 need a speedy resolution to their problems and protracted renegotiations with Britain and other EU states could delay things. There's also the question of 'the Lib Dem veto'. Will the Deputy PM allow Cameron to negotiate substantial changes in the UK-EU relationship? Earlier this week, speaking in Brussels, Mr Clegg made it clear that repatriation was not his party's priority. One Downing Street aide told me earlier this week that "Clegg made Ken Clarke look like Bill Cash".
Tory Eurosceptics won't easily forgive Cameron if he doesn't take this opportunity however. They justifiably wonder if another renegotiation window will even open. They also will dwell on David Cameron's battle cry to the House of Commons on Monday 24th October when he was (unsuccessfully) trying to stop Tory MPs voting for David Nuttall's referendum motion. The PM was pretty clear of his ambition on that occasion:
"Fundamental questions are being asked about the future of the eurozone and, therefore, the shape of the EU itself. Opportunities to advance our national interest are clearly becoming apparent. We should focus on how to make the most of this, rather than pursuing a parliamentary process for a multiple-choice referendum. As yesterday's Council conclusions made clear, changes to the EU treaties need the agreement of all 27 member states. Every country can wield a veto until its needs are met. I share the yearning for fundamental reform and am determined to deliver it."
"Fundamental reform" or modest reform? Which is it Mr Cameron?
> Andrea Leadsom MP on Comment today: The work has begun on how we might repatriate powers from the EU