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Europe: Key parliamentary vote on EU referendum looms

A crucial debate and vote on the UK's future in Europe is taking place today, as MPs decide whether the UK public should have a vote on continued membership of the European Union, reports the BBC.

Conservative MPs have called on Parliament to allow the public to 'have their say' on the UK's continuing membership of the European Union, which had its 40th anniversary on 1 January this year.

James Wharton MP has proposed a Private Members' Bill that would see Parliament placed under a legal obligation to provide a referendum on continuing membership of the EU no later than 2017.

The calls for a referendum come at a time when the UK's relationship with the EU is under considerable scrutiny. The financial crisis being felt across Europe has led many to reconsider the value of the UK's relationship with its European partners, especially when weighed against the cost of UK contributions and increased legislation.

Many Conservatives are notoriously Eurosceptic and believe that the UK could flourish outside of the 'straightjacket' of EU regulation.

The EU is undergoing considerable transformation, with new memberships on the horizon, and the core leaders of France, Germany and others calling for even greater integration to deal with the challenges created by the economic crisis and the single currency.

The bill is likely to be voted through by Conservatives, with a low turn out expected from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who oppose the referendum idea.

In his opening speech, Mr Wharton said: "We have had so many referendums on so many things," he said. "It would seem to be farcical to deny a say on such an important thing which matters to so many people."

The calls for a referendum echo the sentiments of right-wing parties such as UKIP, who have enjoyed greater support in elections campaigning on an anti-Europe agenda.