'No plan B,' says Juncker as Cameron holds crunch 'Brexit' talks

17th February 2016, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron entered the final stretch of negotiations to keep his country in the EU Wednesday ahead of a crunch summit, after the European Commission's chief insisted a so-called Brexit is not an option.

Downing Street said there "are still details to be nailed down" after Cameron held talks with EU figures to win them over to a package of changes he says Britain must get to avoid leaving the bloc.

Britain's Wednesday newspapers reported that part of the plans, to curtail benefits for migrant workers, had been rebuffed by Eastern European countries the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

"Eastern threat to EU deal" was the headline of i newspaper, while City AM said Cameron had been "Eastern blocked".

Cameron met with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, European Parliament head Martin Schulz and top MEPs ahead of a summit of all 28 EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, at which he hopes to agree the reforms.

If Cameron gets what he wants there, he will take the deal into a proposed referendum, most likely in June. If Britons vote to remain in the EU, then the deal would return to Brussels to be put in legal form.

The European Parliament would be closely involved in that process alongside the Commission, the EU's executive arm, and the bloc's 28 leaders.

Schulz, a veteran and fervent supporter of the whole European Union project, pledged that the European Parliament would "move very quickly on the proposals" put forward, but added: "I cannot make any guarantees on the outcome."

A source in the European People's Party, the biggest group in parliament, dismissed accusations by British eurosceptics that MEPs would unravel the deal after the referendum.

"If we have a 'yes' from the British voters, then we will deliver," he said.

- Strong opposition -

The discussions in Brussels are part of a frenetic merry-go-round of diplomacy ahead of this week's summit.

Juncker, speaking before meeting Cameron, said he refused to even entertain the idea of Britain leaving the bloc.

"If I would say now that we have a plan B, this would indicate a kind of willingness of the Commission to envisage seriously that Britain could leave the European Union," Juncker said.

"We don't have a plan B, we have a plan A. Britain will stay in the European Union as a constructive and active member of the Union."

Cameron made no public comment during his four-hour visit to Brussels.

His most controversial proposal is to restrict welfare payments for four years for EU citizens working in Britain.

Eastern EU member states such as Poland, which has hundreds of thousands of workers in Britain, say such a measure would discriminate against them and undercut the core bloc principle of freedom of movement.

Cameron's demand that EU countries that do not use the euro, like Britain, have safeguards against closer integration of the single currency area has run into serious opposition, especially from France.

An opt-out from the EU's mission of "ever closer union" and strengthened national sovereignty are also proving unexpected controversial.

The prime minister agreed to hold the referendum largely to head off gains by the anti-EU UK Independence Party, which was exploiting sharp differences over Europe within his own Conservative Party.

Separately, Britain's Prince William on Tuesday made a speech that the British media interpreted as backing continuing membership of the EU.

"For centuries Britain has been an outward-looking nation," said the prince, the grandson of Queen Elizabeth II.

"We have a long, proud tradition of seeking out allies and partners... Our ability to unite in common action with other nations is essential, it is the bedrock of our security and prosperity."

A spokesman for his Kensington Palace office insisted the speech "was not about Europe."

The royal family does not usually intervene in political issues due to its constitutional position but has been known to issue carefully worded pronouncements on sensitive issues.


© 2016 AFP

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