EU leaders warn over 'unacceptable' UK reform demands

17th December 2015, Comments 0 comments

French President Francois Hollande led EU opposition at a summit on Thursday to "unacceptable" demands by British Prime Minister David Cameron for reforms of the bloc.

Cameron said he hoped for "real progress" when he lays out his wish list, including a controversial limit on benefits for migrants, in hopes of securing a deal at the next EU leaders gathering in February.

"We're not pushing for a deal tonight but we're pushing for real momentum so that we can get this deal done. So I am going to be battling hard for Britain right through the night and I think we will be getting a good deal," Cameron told reporters as he arrived.

But Hollande poured cold water on a demand by Cameron for a four-year limit before EU migrants working in Britain can claim benefits such as social housing or child welfare payments, a move many member states see as both discriminatory and at odds with the bloc's core principle of free movement.

"If it is legitimate to listen to the British prime minister, it is unacceptable to revise founding European commitments," Hollande told reporters.

The EU's top officials, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, also cast doubt on some of Cameron's demands.

"The consultations I have led with all member states show the goodwill of the participants but it doesn't change the fact that some parts of the British proposal seem unacceptable," Tusk told reporters.

"However, if Prime Minister Cameron persuades leaders tonight that we can work together to find solutions regarding all four baskets, we will have a real chance to strike a deal in February."

Cameron wants EU reforms in four areas or "baskets" ahead of a British referendum to be held by the end of 2017.

As well as the migrant benefit limits, the other areas are greater protections for non-euro countries such as Britain, an opt out from the "ever closer union" goal in the EU's treaties and a new focus on greater economic competitiveness.

Juncker, the head of the EU's powerful executive arm, said he hoped to hear "other options to the single one proposed" by Cameron for the benefits ban.

"We want a fair deal with Britain but this fair deal with Britain has to be a fair deal for the other 27 too," Juncker said ahead of the summit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a more cautious tone, while indicating she would not back down on the migrant benefits issue.

"We would indeed like to keep Britain in the EU but at the same time we must not limit the fundamental principles of the EU," Merkel told reporters.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said three of the demands were "easy for us" but the migrants issue was "more complicated."

Poland, Hungary and other eastern European countries have benefited hugely as hundreds of thousands of their nationals have found work elsewhere in the EU, and especially in Britain.

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© 2015 AFP

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