Richard North, 31/01/2014  

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Filtering out from the statement attributed to the French president last Wednesday on Mr Cameron's EU renegotiation ambitions is an intriguing comment. This is repeated in many newspapers and other reports, to the effect that Mr Hollande has said he is "not prepared to accelerate a treaty change to suit Cameron's timetable".

One cannot know whether this was sloppy reporting by the original agency, Gallic arrogance or just the usual does of official ignorance, but one has to observe that neither Mr Hollande, any more than Mr Cameron, is capable of manipulating a treaty change timetable.

Since the Lisbon Treaty, it has been set down that the ordinary revision procedure requires both a convention and an IGC. And it is also a matter of historical record that the procedure can hardly take less than 30 months.

Given also that it cannot start until a new European Parliament and Commission is in place, with a lead-in time for the arrangements to be made and position papers to be drawn up, the clock can't start ticking until the spring of 2015, at the very earliest.

This, as we have so often said, pushes just the signing of a new treaty into late 2017 or early 2018, and the window for a "yes-no" referendum well into 2018 – and there is nothing a mere president of the French Republic can do about it. It is not within his gift to accelerate the procedure.

Furthermore, since all 28 EU member states must agree to any treaty changes, any one can delay or even block the procedure at the final hurdle, so the timetable set out assumes a trouble-free passage. And that hardly seems likely.

One thus gets increasingly weary at the seeming inability of both media an politicians to recognise that a treaty timetable has its own tempo, which cannot be speeded up. The idle assertions that a 2017 referendum is possible is just that – idle, to say nothing of ill-informed.

It is time all parties woke up to the reality, and started to work on the basis of what can actually happen, rather than what individual politicians think might happen.

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