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Stark divisions apparent ahead of EU summit

EU Council President Tusk has warned that some of the reforms demanded by British Prime Minister Cameron could prove unacceptable. Cameron is expected to press for concessions in order to avoid so-called "Brexit."

Cameron faces an uphill battle Thursday evening in his bid to secure agreement on curbing welfare payments to EU migrants, the main negotiator, European Council President Donald Tusk, said.

"The consultations I have led with all member states show the goodwill of the participants but it doesn't change the fact that some parts of the British proposal seem unacceptable," Tusk told reporters.

Cameron is expected to use a Thursday dinner in Brussels to lay out his demands for reforms in European Union in four areas or "baskets" ahead of a British referendum over continued EU membership to be held by the end of 2017.

European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said he was convinced EU leaders would find a solution to "that highly complicated question" of benefits, which Cameron insists he must secure to ease concerns of euroskeptic British voters.

"We'll enter the concrete and vital phase of negotiations with our British colleagues," Juncker told reporters. "The Commission is ready to look for other options than the single one proposed by the British prime minister."

Cameron has been touring European capitals to drum up support for demands that he says will keep the British public from supporting a so-called "Brexit," and make the UK the first nation to leave the 28-nation bloc.

Cameron has already won encouragement from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders who want to keep Britain in the bloc.

Brexit Symbolbild EU Flagge Union Jack Europäische Union

Some Britons are reluctant Europeans despite being part of the EU for more than 40 years. Fears are rife that the country is headed towards a so-called "Brexit" - a withdrawal from the bloc.

Impasse over welfare benefits

But Cameron's proposal to make immigrants from the other 27 EU states wait four years before claiming "in-work" benefits in Britain - payments to people in lower paid jobs to make work more attractive - has been roundly criticized, especially in eastern Europe, for its discriminatory nature.

In Britain, the voting public is split over membership of the European Union. The "out" campaign has gained some momentum by making the argument the bloc will lead to out-of-control immigration and Brussels' inability to tackle such issues as a single entity.

But the former Conservative leader John Major has said Britain should not think of exiting the EU lest it leave the island nation in "splendid isolation," saying this could lead to the break up of the United Kingdom. Support for the EU runs high in Scotland, which is ruled by the pro-independence Scottish National Party.

"I am skeptical of a great deal of European Union policy, but flirting with leaving at a moment when the whole world is coming together seems to me to be very dangerous," Major, prime minister from 1990 to 1997, told BBC Radio.

jar/sms (Reuters, AFP)

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