David Cameron has begun a whirlwind tour of European capitals to drum up support for EU reforms. The outcome of a referendum on whether the UK should remain in the bloc may hinge on what he secures.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has begun a two-day charm offensive aiming to negotiate a more flexible relationship with the European Union.
Speaking in Paris before Thursday's talks with French President Francois Hollande, Cameron urged the bloc's 27 other member nations to be "imaginative" about the EU's future.
"The status quo is not good enough and I think there are changes that can be made that can benefit not just Britain but the the rest of Europe too," he said.
"My priority is to reform the European Union to make it more competitive and to address the concerns that British people have about our membership."
Hollande said that France wanted Britain to remain part of the union, but that it would be "up to the British people to choose their future."
Cameron's first stop on Thursday was The Hague for talks with Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte. He'll continue his tour Friday, meeting with Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz in Warsaw before flying to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Unease over 'Brexit'
Cameron, who was re-elected with a surprise parliamentary majority earlier this month, has promised to push for EU reforms before an upcoming referendum on whether the UK should stay in the bloc.
Some of the concessions the British leader is demanding might require the EU's founding treaties to be amended. An item on Cameron's list pertains to the reference to "ever closer union" in the preamble of the Lisbon Treaty of 2009. Cameron also seeks to restrict the rights of EU migrants to claim state benefits in Britain - a point which could be a hard sell in Poland.
There have also been signs of resistance from Paris. Earlier on Thursday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius cautioned that the referendum, set to be held by 2017, was "very risky" and "quite dangerous."
"Britain has more to lose. When I say to investors, 'France will stay in Europe, but Britain isn't sure it will,' they listen," Fabius told France Inter radio.
Referendum by 2017
Shortly before Cameron departed on his European tour, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond introduced the European Union Referendum Bill to parliament, confirming plans to hold a vote before the end of 2017. Briton's will be asked to answer Yes or No to the question: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?"
The prospect of a "Brexit" - Britain leaving the EU - has alarmed investors and some of the country's allies. Foreign Secretary Hammond said it was understandable that "some of our partners will adopt a hard line at the start of the negotiations."
He told the BBC there would need to be a "substantial package of reforms" from Europe if the British government was to campaign to stay inside the EU.
"If we are not able to deliver on these big areas of concern that the British people have, we will not win the referendum when it comes," he said.
Cameron intends to speak with every leader of the 28-nation EU before a European Council meeting in Brussels in late June.
nm/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)