British PM on two-day European tour to push for reforms


– ‘If we are not able to deliver on those big areas of concern that the British people have, we will not win the referendum,’ British foreign secretary says.

ANKARA — British Prime Minister David Cameron embarked on a two-day tour of European leaders Thursday to renegotiate the terms of the U.K.’s membership in the EU.

He will meet with Dutch premier Mark Rutte and French President Francois Hollande on Thursday before visiting Polish premier Ewa Kopacz and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday.

“The prime minister is very clear in dealing with European Union counterparts,” British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond told BBC Radio 4. “If we are not able to deliver on those big areas of concern that the British people have, we will not win the referendum.”

Cameron is expected to warn the European leaders that Britain may vote to leave the EU if his demands are not met.

“We expect our European Union partners to engage with us in delivering a package that will enable the British people to decide that they think Britain’s future is best delivered inside the European Union,” Hammond said.

Cameron’s center-right Conservative Party has pledged to hold an in-out EU referendum by 2017, giving the British premier time to renegotiate the terms of the U.K.’s membership in the 28-nation bloc.

The vote will be the first referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU since 1975.

“If our partners do not agree with us… then we rule nothing out,” Hammond said when asked if the government may recommend an out vote in case the government is unable to secure the reforms it seeks. “We are in the hands of our counterparts in the EU.”

British media report that the yes option will be to stay inside the EU.

Nigel Farage, leader of the right-wing Eurosceptic U.K. Independence Party said “that Cameron is opting to give the pro-EU side the positive ‘Yes’ suggests strongly that his negotiations are so much fudge.

“He has already decided which way he wants the answer to be given, without a single power repatriated.”

Cameron’s core aim is to force EU migrants working in the U.K. to wait four years before claiming social benefits and banning unemployed EU migrants from claiming benefits outright.

These reforms will face fierce opposition from newly elected Polish president Andrzej Duda, who hails from the nationalist Law and Justice Party, which describes itself as Poland’s patriotic party.

Britain currently hosts 800,000 Polish migrants and with Polish parliamentary elections coming up this year, compromise will be hard to come by in the eastern European state.

Cameron is also pushing for an opt-out from the “ever close union” commitment.

France and Germany, the two most influential EU powers, however, agreed to an integration pact Tuesday, according to French daily, Le Monde.

The newspaper said the proposal “shows that French and German leaders do not have much in common with David Cameron.”

The deal calls for closer political integration among Eurozone member states within the current treaty framework.

It comes as a blow to Cameron as many British Eurosceptics have cast doubt as to whether fundamental reform can be achieved without treaty change.

France and Germany will put their proposal to an EU summit on 25 June, where it is expected to pass and, in turn, shut the door on reforming the Lisbon Treaty, the basis of the EU’s constitutional order.

This poses difficulties for restrictions on EU migrants claiming benefits, for example, which would require treaty change according to “the best legal advice that we are receiving,” Hammond said.

Cameron may push for a legally binding protocol instead, according to the liberal-left Guardian newspaper. This protocol could be attached to a future revision of the Lisbon treaty.

The British premier is also seeking greater powers for national parliaments to block legislative proposals and prevent Eurozone members from forcing changes to the single market on non-Eurozone EU members such as the U.K.

Hammond said the government wanted “a substantive referendum campaign where both sides of the argument will be able to be properly aired and properly debated before we have the vote.”

“We certainly are not going to trade substantive reform just for getting it done quickly,” Hammond said. “We have to get this done properly.”