Wednesday, January 23 15:18:00
Any shift in Britain's relationship with the EU could have massive economic implications for Ireland, according to employers group, IBEC today.
The statement was in reaction to UK Prime Minister David Cameron's long-awaited speech on Britain's future relationship with the EU, which has sent shock waves across Europe.
IBEC CEO Danny McCoy said: "Ireland has a unique economic relationship with the UK. Britain is our most important trading partner and we have a shared consumer market. On many issues Britain is our closest ally in Europe. Any shift in Britain's relationship with the EU could have massive economic implications for Ireland. Irish business is best served by an EU with full and active British participation."
Earlier today, the Tanaiste, Eamonn Gilmore, said that the EU is "better with Britain in it" and that Britain is better off in the EU than outside it.
"We want to see Britain as a fully engaged member of the European Union. It is important our focus doesn't get deflected into debate about who is in or who is out."
Mr Cameron earlier told the BBC that he is committed to a referendum asking a simple "in or out" question to the electorate and that he would give his full support to an "in" campaign but only after the EU agrees to fundamental treaty changes.
He refused to be pinned down on whether he would campaign for an "out" vote if this wasn't possible.
European officials and diplomats were left scratching their heads after David Cameron's big speech today, expressing confusion about how and when the prime minister expects to overhaul Britain's ties to the European Union.
Cameron promised voters an in/out referendum on British membership of the EU if he is re-elected in 2015, saying the referendum would take place by the end of 2017, once Britain has re-negotiated its relationship with the EU.
It may have been what eurosceptics in his Conservative party, and the wider British public, wanted to hear, but it is anything but a straightforward process, and not one that Britain can decide alone.
It needs allies if it wants to distance itself.
Leaving aside the fact that Cameron, down in opinion polls, would need to be re-elected first, the critical question is whether the 26 other EU member states -- or 27 once Croatia joins later this year -- would want to renegotiate the EU treaty, the framework that binds them together.
Fundamental changes to the treaty of the kind that Cameron is hinting at would require support for what is known in EU parlance as a European Convention.
Under EU rules, a simple majority of member states have to be in favour of calling a Convention, so at least 15 countries once Croatia has joined. That is the first hurdle and one Britain might not manage to clear.
If there is a majority in favour of a convention, the EU would begin a long and complex legal and political process involving all member states, the European Parliament, national parliaments and the European Commission.