Cameron, EU lead­ers still need ‘lot to do’ to reach deal

The Pak Banker - - MARKETS/SPORTS -

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron faces tough new talks with Euro­pean part­ners Fri­day af­ter through-the-night meet­ings failed to make much progress on his de­mands for a less in­tru­sive Euro­pean Union.

Bri­tain's fu­ture in the union - along with height­ened ten­sions around Europe's mi­grant cri­sis - are dom­i­nat­ing an EU sum­mit in Brus­sels sched­uled to fin­ish Fri­day with what Cameron hopes is a break­through deal for EU re­form.

Cameron wrapped up talks in Brus­sels with EU Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk and oth­ers around 5:30 a.m. (0430GMT), and is ex­pected to re­sume bi­lat­eral meet­ings late morn­ing. An EU-wide break­fast meet­ing set to ad­dress Cameron's con­cerns was de­layed un­til lunch. A Bri­tish of­fi­cial speak­ing on cus­tom­ary con­di­tion of anonymity said Fri­day morn­ing there are "some signs of progress but noth­ing yet agreed and still a lot to do."

It's po­ten­tially a piv­otal mo­ment for the EU and decades of in­te­gra­tion among once-en­emy na­tions. Bri­tain is ques­tion­ing whether be­long­ing to the bloc is still worth it, so Cameron is push­ing for an EU re­form deal that will let him urge Bri­tons to ap­prove con­tin­ued mem­ber­ship in a ref­er­en­dum that could come as soon as June.

Cameron said he was "bat­tling for Bri­tain" and told his fel­low lead­ers that he needed a sub­stan­tial deal that would be "cred­i­ble for the Bri­tish peo­ple." The Bri­tish ref­er­en­dum is likely to be close and hard-fought.

He's run into tougher-than-ex­pected re­sis­tance for the changes he's seek­ing, no­tably from France. French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande warned Thurs­day that no in­di­vid­ual leader should be al­lowed to stop closer Euro­pean co­op­er­a­tion, and that ced­ing too much to Bri­tain - es­pe­cially on light­en­ing fi­nan­cial regulation - could prompt other coun­tries to de­mand spe­cial rules, too, un­der­min­ing the whole idea of unity.

The draft deal of­fers guar­an­tees to coun­tries, in­clud­ing Bri­tain, that do not use the shared euro cur­rency, and makes tweaks aimed at boost­ing com­pet­i­tive­ness and giv­ing na­tional par­lia­ments more power.

A key stick­ing point is Bri­tain's push to limit ben­e­fit pay­ments to work­ers from other EU coun­tries. Im­mi­gra­tion is an es­pe­cially sen­si­tive point for Bri­tish vot­ers, be­cause Bri­tain has at­tracted hun­dreds of thou­sands of work­ers from east­ern Euro­pean na­tions in the past decade, drawn by the prospect of higher-pay­ing jobs. The EU im­mi­grants can also claim tax cred­its and other ben­e­fits in Bri­tain, which Cameron's govern­ment says is strain­ing the bud­get.

Cameron has pro­posed lim­it­ing one pay­ment - child ben­e­fit, given to all fam­i­lies with chil­dren - to mi­grants from other EU na­tions for at least 10 years, while east­ern coun­tries ar­gued for three or four years, ac­cord­ing to one Euro­pean of­fi­cial in­volved in the talks. El­mar Brok, a Euro­pean Par­lia­ment leg­is­la­tor from Ger­many who is work­ing as a ne­go­tia­tor at the talks, said Fri­day he be­lieved the "ma­jor prob­lems are solved." But he told the BBC that the wel­fare brake re­mained con­tentious, with some coun­tries find­ing Bri­tain's aim of a curb on ben­e­fits last­ing a decade or more "very dif­fi­cult to ac­cept."

Dutch Prime Min­is­ter Mark Rutte ar­gued Fri­day for the im­por­tance of keep­ing Bri­tain's free-mar­ket voice in the EU. A Bri­tish exit, he said, "would be bad news for the EU - but also for the U.K. It would end up as a mid-sized econ­omy some­where in the middle of the At­lantic Ocean."

Bri­tain has stayed out of both the euro cur­rency and the pass­port-free Schen­gen travel zone, and many Bri­tons re­sent what they see as Brus­sels in­creas­ingly med­dling in sov­er­eign is­sues.

Cameron said he would not stop other EU mem­bers striv­ing for more unity, but in­sisted Bri­tain should have iron­clad guar­an­tees that it could stay on the side­lines.

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