PM to hold EU talks with Merkel

Published: Friday 29th May 2015 by Caroline Stephenson

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David Cameron is to hold crucial talks with Angela Merkel after warning that Britain’s current arrangements with the EU are “not good enough”.

The Prime Minister will round off a two-day tour of European capitals in Berlin, where he will seek backing from the powerful German Chancellor.

Mrs Merkel and French president Francois Hollande have both stressed they want the UK to remain in the union.

However, there has been little sign of enthusiasm for the treaty change Mr Cameron believes is required in order to deliver real reform in key areas such as welfare.

France and Germany have reportedly agreed that closer integration of the eurozone countries can be achieved without altering treaties – potentially reducing Britain’s leverage.

Addressing the media alongside Mr Hollande in Paris last night, Mr Cameron insisted the EU had to be “flexible and imaginative enough” to respond to demands for a better deal.

After pointedly referring to his own recent election victory, the PM said: “My priority is to reform the European Union to make it more competitive, and to address the concerns of the British people about our membership.

“The status quo is not good enough. I believe there are changes we can make that will not just benefit Britain, but the rest of Europe too.

“Of course the priority for Francois is to strengthen the eurozone to ensure a successful single currency, and Britain supports that.

“We want to help the eurozone work better and we do not want to stand in the way of closer integration. So we have different priorities but we share one objective, which is to find solutions to these problems.

“What matters is that the EU and its 28 members are flexible and imaginative enough to respond to these issues and to work together to find answers that will make the EU more successful.

“That is the challenge of our times and I believe strongly that we can meet it.”

Mr Hollande said it was “in the interest of Europe and that of the UK to remain together”.

He said: “We share the same point of view France wishes the United Kingdom to remain within the EU.

“A referendum will be for the British people to choose. This is a matter of sovereignty for them to choose what they want for their future…

“David Cameron will make a number of proposals and we will discuss them and see how we can move forward so that the British people can answer the question on the basis of what is most suitable.”

Earlier the Prime Minister had met Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte for a working lunch in The Hague – although a visit to Copenhagen to meet Danish premier Helle Thorning-Schmidt was cancelled after she called a snap general election.

This morning Mr Cameron will be in Warsaw for talks with Polish counterpart Ewa Kopacz, before heading for Berlin to see Mrs Merkel – whose support is essential for success.

The tour came as Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said “substantial” reforms were needed for the Government successfully to recommend staying in the EU.

“The Prime Minister is very clear in dealing with European counterparts that if we are not able to deliver on these big areas of concern that the British people have, we will not win the referendum when it comes,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Mr Hammond confirmed the Government believed the reforms it was seeking – particularly on curbing migrants’ access to benefits – would require changes to the EU treaties, potentially making it harder to get an agreement.

Under the provisions of the EU Referendum Bill, tabled in Parliament yesterday, the vote has to be held before the end of 2017.

The legislation also sets out the wording of the referendum question, with voters being asked: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”

It means supporters of Britain retaining its ties to Brussels will form the Yes campaign when the vote comes.

The Conservatives’ previously-preferred wording – ”Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union?” – has been dropped following concerns by the Electoral Commission that some people might not know the country was already a member.

The second reading of the EU Referendum Bill will take place in the Commons on June 9.

Published: Friday 29th May 2015 by Caroline Stephenson

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