Cameron woos EU leaders as clock ticks on deal to avert 'Brexit'

5th February 2016, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron kicked off a fortnight of high-stakes diplomacy with talks in Poland Friday aimed at sealing a contentious deal on reforms designed to prevent Britain from leaving the European Union.

Sources close to the negotiations told AFP on Thursday that so far no European leaders are satisfied with a draft agreement for a deal to avoid a "Brexit."

Cameron stressed his country's "shared interests" and spoke of a "long-term strategic partnership" with Poland as he met with Prime Minister Beata Szydlo to tackle a controversial proposal to restrict benefits to EU migrants in Britain.

"There are always topics that need to be ironed out," Szydlo told reporters at a joint press conference, adding that it was "very important" to Poland for Britain to stay in the EU.

"Over a million Poles live and work in Britain. Their work is growing Britain's GDP and we want them to enjoy the same kind of opportunities for development as Britons," Szydlo said.

The so-called Visegrad Four -- the central European states of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia -- say they will not accept any plan that discriminates against hundreds of thousands of their citizens working in Britain.

Central Europeans have flocked to Britain in search of jobs and a better life since their poorer ex-communist countries joined the EU in 2004.

While many are gainfully employed, the influx has nonetheless prompted criticism that the migrants are draining Britain's generous welfare system.

- 'Emergency brake,' 'Red card' -

A draft agreement unveiled on Monday by EU president Donald Tusk -- a former Polish premier -- includes a four-year "emergency brake" limiting welfare payments to migrants, as well as a "red card" system for national parliaments to overrule draft EU laws.

Initial reactions from European capitals show that "nobody's happy" with it, one European source told AFP Thursday on condition of anonymity.

Cameron must convince his fellow 27 EU leaders to back the reform proposals at a leaders' summit in Brussels on February 18-19.

If he gets an agreement, he will then campaign for Britain to remain in the EU in an in-out referendum that is likely to be held in June.

With the clock ticking, the British leader Cameron was to follow-up his talks in Warsaw with a stop in Denmark scheduled later Friday.

European diplomats in Brussels are set to hold their first full talks on the new proposals on Friday, and will meet again next Thursday in a bid to iron out their differences and reach an agreement at the summit.

Cameron has meanwhile been in frequent contact with French President Francois Hollande, who warned on Wednesday that there should be no more changes to the deal at the summit itself, and has expressed concern over Tusk's proposals for protections for non-eurozone countries.

A British government source said however that "the mood is improving on that."

Spain is meanwhile dissatisfied with the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, for not taking a tougher line on Cameron's demands for a limit to benefits for EU migrants working in Britain, another European source said.

© 2016 AFP

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