Cameron meets former foe Juncker for EU reform talks

25th May 2015, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron was to host European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday as he kickstarts diplomatic efforts to secure European Union reforms ahead of a referendum on the country's membership.

The meeting comes after the government said that most European Union citizens who are resident in Britain will not be able to vote in the referendum.

A source in Cameron's office said it was important that British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens "are the ones who get to decide" in the crucial vote.

Cameron and Juncker will hold a "working dinner" at the prime minister's country retreat Chequers ahead of Cameron's meetings with German leader Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande later in the week.

Despite Cameron's attempts to block his appointment as president, Juncker said he was "ready to work" with the prime minister, who was re-elected earlier this month, "to strike a fair deal with the UK".

Cameron promised British voters an in-out EU referendum by 2017 as part of his successful campaign to win a second term in office.

The British leader is meeting European leaders to try and secure reforms on issues such as immigration, welfare eligibility and power to refuse further integration before the referendum, which could take place as soon as 2016.

On Thursday and Friday Cameron will visit a series of European capitals, meeting the leaders of Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Poland and Germany to seek support.

The prime minister aims to speak to all 27 other leaders of EU member states before a European Council summit at the end of next month.

- 'Fitting' rules on EU vote -

He kicked off months of negotiations on Friday at a summit of the 28-nation bloc and six former Soviet states in Riga, his first overseas trip since winning the general election two weeks ago.

Cameron said he was "confident" of securing a deal, but warned there would be "lots of noise, lots of ups and downs along the way" from other European states questioning his proposals.

In a statement issued Monday, Cameron's office said that the referendum would be "based on the general election franchise", meaning that citizens of most EU countries who are resident in Britain would not be able to vote.

As is normal in British general elections, British people aged over 18 and United Kingdom residents who are from Ireland or the Commonwealth -- the 53-member organisation mostly made up of countries formerly part of the British Empire -- will be able to vote.

This includes residents from the EU nations Malta and Cyprus.

"This is a big decision for our country, one that is about the future of the United Kingdom," a source in Cameron's office said.

"That's why we think it's important that it is British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens that are the ones who get to decide."

EU citizens living in Scotland were able to vote in its independence referendum in 2014, and can vote in British local government elections.

The decision was welcomed by Conservative parliamentarian Liam Fox, a prominent eurosceptic.

"This is a fitting response by the government," Fox said in a statement.

"Allowing EU citizens to vote in our referendum would have been an unacceptable dilution of the voice of the British people."

Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar and British nationals who have lived abroad for fewer than 15 years would also be able to vote.

Legislation for holding the referendum is to be introduced in parliament on Thursday.

© 2015 AFP

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