Cameron to meet Juncker as 'Brexit' talks close in on deal

The Pak Banker - - MARKETS/SPORTS -

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron and Euro­pean Com­mis­sion chief Jean-Claude Juncker will try to thrash out a deal on mi­grant ben­e­fits on Fri­day in a fi­nal push for a re­form deal to keep Bri­tain in the EU.

The Euro­pean Union is ex­pected to make its pro­pos­als on Mon­day in time to reach an agree­ment at a crunch sum­mit in Fe­bru­ary, which would then al­low Cameron to hold a ref­er­en­dum on mem­ber­ship of the 28-na­tion bloc in June.

In a sign of the ur­gency of the talks, Cameron can­celled a visit to Den­mark and Swe­den to hold Fri­day's work­ing lunch with Juncker, while he will also have a hastil­yarranged din­ner with EU pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk in Lon­don on Sun­day.

The talks with Juncker -- the head of the EU's pow­er­ful ex­ec­u­tive, which would ini­ti­ate any leg­is­la­tion needed for the deal -- are ex­pected to fo­cus on Cameron's de­mands for a fouryear limit be­fore EU work­ers in Bri­tain can claim wel­fare pay­ments.

An emer­gency "mi­gra­tion brake" that would al­low Bri­tain to put lim­its on im­mi­gra­tion or on wel­fare pay­ments for EU mi­grants is one of the op­tions that the EU is ex­am­in­ing, diplo­matic sources have told AFP.

Asked about the "brake" plan, Cameron said on Thurs­day night dur­ing a visit to the Scot­tish city of Aberdeen: "I'm glad that oth­ers in Europe are now tak­ing on board this is­sue and look­ing at strong al­ter­na­tives to the pro­posal I put for­ward."

"What's good is that oth­ers in Europe are bring­ing for­ward ideas to ad­dress this prob­lem so we have bet­ter con­trol of move­ment of peo­ple into our coun­try," he added.

Many EU states have re­jected what they say are dis­crim­i­na­tory calls by cen­tre-right Con­ser­va­tive party leader Cameron -- who was re-elected in May -- for a limit on ben­e­fits in a union that prizes free­dom of move­ment.

Of­fi­cials say Cameron's other de­mands are likely to be eas­ier: safe­guards against more political in­te­gra­tion in the EU, pro­tec­tion of coun­tries that do not use the euro cur­rency -- a key is­sue for the City of Lon­don fi­nan­cial district -- and the boost­ing of eco­nomic com­pet­i­tive­ness.

Tusk's of­fice said the for­mer Pol­ish premier would fi­nalise his pro­pos­als for a deal to avoid a so-called "Brexit" from the EU af­ter his meet­ing with Cameron on Sun­day, which would cover all four ar­eas.

Tusk is likely to ta­ble his pro­pos­als on Mon­day, Euro­pean sources told AFP.

Cameron set them out to other EU lead­ers at a sum­mit in De­cem­ber in which se­nior Euro­pean of­fi­cials said he had made a con­vinc­ing case, overcoming last minute ob­jec­tions by a hand­ful of coun­tries.

France has how­ever ap­peared scep­ti­cal in re­cent weeks, with Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls warn­ing at the Davos fo­rum last week that a deal was un­likely at the Fe­bru­ary sum­mit.

But Down­ing Street in­sisted the flurry of last-minute talks with top EU of­fi­cials -- he is also due to meet Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel in Ham­burg on Fe­bru­ary 12 -- were "ab­so­lutely" a pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment.

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