Cameron re­form plan launch faces EU warn­ings

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY KATHER­INE HAD­DON

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron found his re­form agenda side­lined at a tense EU sum­mit Thurs­day as lead­ers warned he faces tough ne­go­ti­a­tions ahead of a ref­er­en­dum on whether to leave the bloc.

As he walked into the Brus­sels sum­mit dom­i­nated by Greece and mi­gra­tion, Cameron said it marked a “sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone” in the United King­dom’s bid to rene­go­ti­ate ties with the Euro­pean Union be­fore a ref­er­en­dum due by the end of 2017.

Euro­pean lead­ers dis­cussed his pro­pos­als for just a few min­utes at din­ner be­tween fraught dis­cus­sions on mi­gra­tion be­fore agree­ing to move to the next stage in the process.

“It’s been a long night and we’ve dis­cussed some very im- por­tant sub­jects, but above all I’m de­lighted that the process of Bri­tish re­form and rene­go­ti­a­tion and the ref­er­en­dum that we’re go­ing to hold, that process is now prop­erly un­der­way,” Cameron said af­ter­wards.

“Peo­ple al­ways say to me that these things aren’t pos­si­ble, that you’ll never get them done. Well once again we’ve proved we will get them done. We’ve started that process and it’s un­der­way.”

This in­volves de­tailed tech­ni­cal talks af­ter the broad dis­cus­sions which Cameron has so far had on the is­sue with his fel­low 27 EU lead­ers.

It is thought the is­sue will get only a short men­tion in Fri­day’s fi­nal com­mu­nique.

EU lead­ers are fo­cused on try­ing to keep Greece in the eu­ro­zone and halt­ing an in­flux of mi­grants from Mid­dle East and African trou­ble spots, mean­ing sub­stan­tive talks on the UK’s de­sired re­forms will have to wait.

Nev­er­the­less, EU Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk warned that only changes which were “safe” for Europe would be con­sid­ered.

“The Bri­tish prime min­is­ter set out his plans for an in/out ref­er­en­dum, so the talks on UK rene­go­ti­a­tion will now get un­der­way. It was the first step in a longer process,” the for­mer Pol­ish premier said.

“One thing should be clear from the very be­gin­ning: the fun­da­men­tal val­ues of the Euro­pean Union are not for sale and so are non­nego­tiable. We should con­sider Bri­tish con­cerns, but only in a way which will be safe for all Europe. We will come back to this in De­cem­ber.”

Un­ease over EU Ties

Martin Schulz, pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, also fired a shot across the bows of Cameron, who has in­sisted the changes he wants re­quire treaty change.

“I think treaty change is quite dif­fi­cult and the UK gov­ern­ment should not only ex­clu­sively fo­cus on treaty change,” he said.

Bri­tish of­fi­cials ac­cepted Thurs­day that any treaty change may not be im­ple­mented by the ref­er­en­dum but that Cameron would se­cure legally bind­ing pledges that EU laws would be al­tered to in­clude the re­forms.

The Brus­sels sum­mit came the day af­ter Queen El­iz­a­beth II used a state visit to Ger­many to warn that “di­vi­sion in Europe is dan­ger­ous.”

Cameron fa­vors stay­ing in Europe as long as he can se­cure the re­forms he says are nec­es­sary.

He told fel­low EU lead­ers at Thurs­day’s din­ner of the im­por­tance of tak­ing talks for­ward to ad­dress un­ease in the UK about its ties with the EU, a Bri­tish of­fi­cial speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity said.

Cameron has long stressed four broad ar­eas for re­form on which more de­tailed pro­pos­als will now be drawn up.

These are im­prov­ing com­pet­i­tive­ness; en­sur­ing fair­ness for non-eu­ro­zone coun­tries; pro­tect­ing sovereignty, in­clud­ing opt­ing out of the EU’s com­mit­ment to “ev­er­closer union” and lim­it­ing ac­cess to ben­e­fits for mi­grants.

The Bri­tish leader is fac­ing pres­sure from some in his cen­ter-right Con­ser­va­tive Party, which has a strong euroskep­tic fringe, to re­veal more de­tail on ex­actly what he is de­mand­ing.

Cameron’s of­fi­cial spokesman said what mat­tered was “the sub­stance and that tech­ni­cal work gets un­der way be­fore the sum­mer.”

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