UK Prime Minister David Cameron has called on his EU counterparts for their help keeping Britain in the bloc. Germany said it was willing to compromise but France criticized Britain for asking too much.
At a meeting of all 28 European Union leaders in Brussels on Thursday, the group took a brief respite from discussing the continent's migrant crisis to mull the next looming threat to the Union: the so-called 'Brexit,' or British exit from the EU.
Prime Minister David Cameron used the summit to push for a deal to reform the UK's links to the EU that he could take back to London by February and use to persuade lawmakers to act in favor of remaining in the EU in a referendum he has promised to hold by the end of 2017.
"Nothing is certain in life or in Brussels but there is a pathway to a deal in February," Cameron told the press after Thursday's dinner in Brussels with the EU leaders.
Hollande: British demands are 'unacceptable'
Cameron's German counterpart Angela Merkel struck a cautious tone, saying there was a willingness to hear London's concerns but that there were some values, like the free movement Britain wants to restrict, that could not be amended.
"We made it clear that we are ready to compromise, but always on the basis that we safeguard the core European principles, which include non-discrimination and free movement," she said.
French President Francois Hollande was even more direct about what he considered Britain's "unacceptable" wish for special rights within the EU.
"If it is legitimate to listen to the British prime minister, it is unacceptable to revise founding European commitments," said Hollande.
Pace of refugee redistribution irks Austria
The rest of the meeting on Thursday was focused on handling the migration crisis across the 28-member bloc as unrest in the Middle East and northern Africa has seen almost a million people seek refuge within their borders.
The EU has agreed to a tentative deal to help ease the burden on major migrant destinations by redistributing around 160,000 asylum seekers across the group, but reluctance to implement the measures from central and eastern member nations has seen the process slow down to what other nations have criticized as an unacceptably slow pace.
Austria even threatened financial penalties to countries which refuse to cooperate.
"All the elements of an immigration strategy are there, but there is still a delivery deficit," said EU President Donald Tusk.
"Implementation is insufficient and has to be speeded up," read the joint statement from all member nations at the end of the day's meeting, with a warning that a lack of solutions could place the bloc's free-travel Schengen Zone in jeopardy.
es/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)