UK Finance Minister George Osborne has said his government has been given a clear mandate to renegotiate British EU membership. A referendum is set to take place by the end of 2017, although it could be even sooner.
Osborne on Tuesday warned that the British government was determined to seek EU reforms ahead of a planned referendum on continued membership.
On his way into a meeting with counterparts from other EU nations, Osborne said his party would only support remaining in the EU if sufficient changes could be made to the terms.
"We come here with a very clear mandate to improve Britain's relationship with the rest of the EU and to reform the EU so that it creates jobs and increases living standards for all its citizens," said Osborne.
The Conservatives won a surprise absolute majority in Britain's lower chamber, the House of Commons, in the UK general election on Thursday. The party has promised that it will allow an in/out referendum on continued membership of the EU by the end of 2017.
Taking back powers
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who retained Osborne as his chancellor of the exchequer on Friday, has said he would seek changes on migration and benefits - as well as the repatriation of certain powers from Brussels to London.
"We go into these negotiations aiming to be constructive and engaged but also resolute and firm, and no one should underestimate our determination to succeed for the working people of Britain and indeed for the working people of the European Union," said Osborne, who is likely to be one of the lead negotiators.
Osborne refused to address speculation that the referendum on the so-called "Brexit" might be brought forward to 2016.
Many in his party and in the business community have argued that the referendum should take place much earlier than the "end of 2017" deadline" because that would reduce uncertainty. A vote before April 2017 would avoid the possibility of it clashing with elections in France and Germany - both polls that could introduce complications to negotiations.
Setting an early date?
The Reuters news agency on Thursday reported that Cameron's spokesman had not ruled out the possibility of an earlier referendum - and that he wanted treaty change. Cameron is due to set out further details to his EU colleagues in a meeting of EU leaders at the end of June.
"He will set out some further details to EU colleagues at that end of June EU council," the spokesman said. "He wants treaty change. All the advice that he has had is that treaty change is required, for example in terms of some of the changes that we want to see in welfare," said the spokesman.
EU Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs leaders' meetings, has said he shares many of Cameron's concerns and will be of importance in arriving at any consensus.
However, another key player will be recently-elected European Commission leader Jean-Claude Juncker, who Cameron last year tried to block from the role, without success. Juncker has said he wants to offer Britain a fair deal, although that would be without major changes to EU treaties.
rc/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters)