EC President Donald Tusk warns British exit has reached ′critical moment′ | News | DW | 15.02.2016
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EC President Donald Tusk warns British exit has reached 'critical moment'

The EC's Donald Tusk has cautioned there is a 'real' danger of the bloc breaking over the possibility of the UK's exit. Meanwhile, French officials said 'more work' needs to be done to find a deal with the UK.

During a visit to Romania on Monday to discuss the terms of Britain's membership of the European Union (EU), European Council (EC) President Donald Tusk insisted: "we cannot and will not compromise on the fundamental freedoms and values. It is in this spirit that I drafted my proposal for a new settlement for the UK in the EU."

On Twitter, Tusk also warned that the risk of a British exit from the EU was "real."

"This is a critical moment. It is high time we started listening to each other's arguments more than to our own," Tusk added during his Romanian visit.

Cameron in Paris

On Monday evening, British Prime Minister David Cameron met with French President Francois Hollande in Paris to convince the French leader to grant concessions ahead of an EU summit in Brussels, which is set to start on Thursday.

Further negotiations are needed before Britain's EU partners can agree on a deal to prevent the country from leaving, a French official reported following the talks.

The official said that although there is "political willingness" to find a deal, "more work is needed, particularly on economic governance."

According to a spokesman for Cameron's office, the British prime minister and Hollande agreed that draft proposals to renegotiate the UK's membership in the 28-nation bloc provide a "firm basis" for a deal.

"They agreed that we are making good progress on the UK renegotiation and that the draft text from the European Council provides a firm basis to reach agreement at this week's summit," the spokesman in London said.

Cameron has already met with German Chancelor Angela Merkel last Friday for discussions of the UK's demands for improved terms of membership. Cameron is due to meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Tuesday, as well as with senior members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

A meeting of Cameron's Conservative government cabinet has reportedly been brought forward to Friday evening in expectation of further proposals from European leaders.

Social welfare 'at stake'

Continental Europe has long enjoyed a generous social welfare system, with non-discrimination among EU citizens as a foundation for the 28-country bloc. Many have therefore criticized Cameron's insistence on a proposal denying welfare rights to EU newcomers in Britain for up to four years.

"The social welfare system is, of course, at stake," Juncker said in Brussels on Monday. "We have to approach this question of the social welfare system with a maximum of prudence, he said. "This is concerning Britain, but it is also concerning the other member states."

Juncker also called the proposals that will be discussed during the upcoming summit "a fair deal for Britain and this is a fair deal for the 27 other member states."

Britain for the 'Brexit'

In an opinion poll published on Monday in the UK, 49 percent of the public said they would vote to stay in the EU, while 41 percent would vote to leave.

In comparison, a January poll showed that 54 percent would vote to remain, with only 36 percent saying they would vote for the so-called "Brexit."

Britain is demanding EU concessions before holding a referendum on whether or not the UK will remain in the EU. The Conservatives' election manifesto promised to hold a nationwide vote on whether or not the UK should stay in or leave the European Union by the end of 2017.

If a deal is sealed during this week's summit, he might call a vote as soon as June.

ls,rs/jm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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