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Cameron pushes anti-Brexit plan in Brussels

February 16, 2016

British Prime Minister David Cameron and his European Union counterparts all want Britain to stay in the EU. But whether he can get them to approve a package of reforms that will loosen Britain's ties remains uncertain.

Belgien EU Kommission Flaggen Großbritannien und Europa
Image: Reuters/Y. Herman

British Prime Minister David Cameron came away from a series of meetings Tuesday saying European Union officials were on board with his reform proposals aimed at keeping Britain from leaving the EU.

EU officials agree that they want Britain to stay in the EU but expressed doubts about some of Britain's proposals.

In a whirlwind, four-hour visit to Brussels, during which Cameron made no public comments, he met with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and European Parliament head Martin Schulz to lay out his reform proposal.

Afterwards an unnamed spokesman for the prime minister said the EU leaders "all made clear their support for the proposals on the table and said they were ready to take any necessary EU legislation through the European Parliament swiftly."

That's a far cry from how Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, described the current situation.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron poses with European Parliament President Martin Schulz (R) at the EU Parliament in Brussels.
Cameron with EU Parliament President Martin Schulz (R)Image: Reuters/F. Lenoir

Speaking during a visit to Athens, Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, warned that negotiations were at a "fragile" stage and nothing could be taken for granted.

"The proposal I have put on the table is a fair and balanced one," Tusk said. "It helps the UK to address all the concerns raised by Prime Minister Cameron, without compromising on our common freedoms and values.

"There are still many difficult issues to solve," he added.

Cameron's controversial proposals

Among Cameron's most controversial proposals are restricting welfare payments to four years for EU citizens working in Britain.

Poland, along with other eastern member states, has hundreds of thousands of its workers in Britain, and opposes the measure, calling it discriminatory. In addition, they say it undermines one of the bloc's fundamental principles: freedom of movement.

Other Cameron proposals raising eyebrows include allowing countries outside of the eurozone, such as Britain, to implement safeguards against closer integration of the single currency area.

France strongly opposes this idea, saying Britain cannot have a veto over the eurozone.

Cameron's call for an opt-out from the EU's mission of "ever closer union" and strengthened national sovereignty have also generated unexpectedly strong opposition.

Cameron needs the summit leaders this week to sign off on his proposals before taking a deal back to Britain for a referendum by the end of 2017. Upon approval there, the plan would then head back to the EU parliament for ratification.

Still, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said there is no plan B, as he could not imagine Britain leaving the EU.

"We don't have a plan B - we have a plan A," Junker said. "Britain will stay in the European Union as a constructive and active member of the Union."

bik/kms (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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