David Cameron pushes reform agenda at EU summit | News | DW | 22.05.2015
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David Cameron pushes reform agenda at EU summit

The British premier has used an EU summit in Riga to propose tightening the rules around migrants to the bloc. The meeting was to focus on the partnership between EU members and several eastern European states.

The newly re-elected leader brought up several policies at the meeting of European Union (EU) members in the Latvian capital, Riga, on Friday.

He says although he realizes his suggestions won't be popular, he has a "determination to deliver for the British people a reform of the EU."

"But there will be lots of noise, lots of ups and downs, along the way," the Conservative prime minister said.

Cameron is pushing for tightening rules that apply to bloc migrants, such as reducing their eligibility for unemployment benefits, and potentially setting a time limit in which a new arrival must find work, or leave.

He has also called for countries to take back more control over laws handed down by the EU.

In 2009, parliaments won the right to force the European Commission (EC) to review EU legislation, although this has not yet been put into practice. Cameron wants to give members an outright veto over the commission.

Looking after the status quo

The EU was a tricky topic for Cameron in the British general elections, and the Conservatives' domestic pledges have raised eyebrows in Brussels, such as plans to hold a referendum on Britain's EU membership in two years' time.

Cameron has said he will continue to renegotiate the terms of Britain's membership prior to the vote, and that he will campaign for the UK to stay in the bloc, however "changes to welfare to cut EU migration will be an absolute requirement in the renegotiation."

Although Britain is not a member of the Schengen Zone, which allows people to move freely without border controls across almost 30 European countries, the broader EU principle of free migration among EU member states do apply. In other words, the UK can check people crossing its border posts, but typically can't refuse entry to EU citizens seeking to move to Britain.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has described the free movement of people as a core value of the EU.

British officials said Cameron had met with various leaders for brief discussions over his policy suggestions.

"It was a pitch about why these issues matter to the British people, why he needs to address them, broader concerns around immigration, the direction of the EU," they said.

A large part of Prime Minister Cameron's reform agenda centers around making it more difficult for migrants to the EU to claim benefits.

He has already gained support from Germany and other states for shoring up welfare systems against abuse by unemployed migrants.

The British leader is already planning to meet with several top officials, in an effort to gain support for his renegotiation terms.

First-up is European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday at Cameron's own country retreat, followed by trips to Paris next Thursday and then Berlin on Friday.

'A long process'

Meanwhile, talks between the EU and the former Soviet states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine continued.

European Council President Donald Tusk said that while the Union would stand by the states, it was not "automatically the way to membership of the EU … it will be a long process."

In a boost to Ukraine, a 1.8 billion euro ($2 billion) loan package was signed to help the country's economy stay afloat.

EU grants of 200 million euros over the coming decade were also allocated for small and medium-sized businesses in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

The possibility of implementing visa-free travel to the EU from next year for Georgia and Ukraine was discussed, on condition the two nations bring in certain reforms.

Also up for discussion were Greece's financial troubles, with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras concentrating on getting new funding from international creditors.

On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned there was "still a lot to do" in negotiations.

an/msh (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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