Euro pact faces UK hurdle, ebbing market faith

By Sarah Dilorenzo

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 12 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

In this video image from the Parliamentary Recording Unit, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks in the House of Commons, London, Monday Dec. 12, 2011. David Cameron was the only leader among the 27 members of the European Union to refuse to support a plan last week which would see nations submit their budgets for central review and limit the deficits they can run. (AP Photo) NO ARCHIVE

The Associated Press

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LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron warned that Europe's new fiscal pact, aimed at fixing the euro, faces significant political hurdles, while investors and ratings agencies said the deal was insufficient to fix the continent's debt problems.

Cameron, who was the only leader among the 27 European Union members to refuse last week to consider a plan to tighten budget controls, warned the deal could clash with existing EU rules and that it could take months of negotiations to sort the conflicts.

As the political rift between Britain and euro countries created uncertainty about the deal's implementation, ratings agencies Moody's and Fitch warned it did not even properly address the problem of lowering existing debt.

Stocks and the euro fell sharply as market confidence in the plan — and Europe's ability to end the crisis — ebbed. Italy's government, whose borrowing rates jumped higher on Monday, faced days of union strikes and protests, which even silence La Scala opera house in Milan on Monday.

The U.K.'s refusal of the new European fiscal pact threatens to leave Britain isolated on the fringes of the EU, while the 17 countries which use the euro currency — and almost all their neighbors — agree to consider a new pact to enforce deeper political and fiscal bonds.

"This is new territory and does raise important issues which we will want to explore with the 'euro plus' countries," Cameron told the House of Commons, referring to the block of 17 eurozone nations, and nine others who say they'll either sign up to or consider the new pact.

Cameron also faced criticism from within his own Cabinet, with his deputy prime minister Nick Clegg warning that Britain risked being "a pygmy in the world," and isolated from key decisions

Clegg, whose pro-European Liberal Democrats are junior partners to Cameron's Conservatives in Britain's coalition, "did not want his presence to be a distraction," his office said.

Cameron told legislators that unlike a new EU treaty, the plan for the pact doesn't "carry the same dangers for Britain — nonetheless, it is not without risks."

He said some uncertainty lies ahead.

"I think we are going to see now, frankly, a period of great change in Europe. No one quite knows where this new organization outside the European treaties will go, and what powers it will seek and how it will act," Cameron said.

Ministers from both governing parties insisted Britain's coalition was not on the brink of collapse.

The opposition Labour Party said Cameron's veto had failed to halt Europe's march toward closer fiscal ties. "It's not a veto when the thing you wanted to stop goes ahead without you. That's called losing," Labour's leader Ed Miliband said.

Britain's government is worried that the new European pact would overlap with the existing EU treaty. In particular, Cameron's office said it was not clear how EU institutions such as the European Commission, the EU's executive based in Brussels, could be used under two different, possibly competing, regimes.

"There are issues that are raised by this, about institutions serving two masters — the euro zone and the European Union — and we need to look at those issues very carefully," Cameron's spokesman Steve Field told reporters.

"If you have the institutions serving the 27 and serving the 17, there is potential for conflict of interest," he said.

A European Commission official, who declined to be named in line with the institution's policy, said it was likely that all 27 members of the EU would need to approve the use of EU institutions for the new agreement.

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