EU's Juncker 'quite sure' of British deal in February

15th January 2016, Comments 0 comments

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday he was confident the EU and Britain would reach a deal at a summit in February on reforms that London has demanded to stay in the bloc.

Juncker warned however that there were still difficult issues with Prime Minister David Cameron's demands, which he wants resolved before holding a referendum on a possible "Brexit" from the 28-nation union.

"I am quite sure that we'll have a deal -- not a compromise, a solution, a permanent solution -- in February," Juncker, the head of the executive branch of the European Union, told a press conference.

"What allows me to consider that a deal, a solution could be operational in February? My knowledge is allowing me to tell you that," former Luxembourg premier Juncker added.

"I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic. I know that we have to deliver."

Cameron has said he wants a deal by February so that he can campaign to stay in a "reformed EU" in the referendum, which is expected in mid-2016 but could be as late as the end of 2017.

- 'Very, very difficult' -

The British premier's most controversial proposal is a four-year ban on top-up benefits for EU migrants working in Britain, which critics say is discriminatory and threatens freedom of movement in the EU.

He also wants the EU to give Britain safeguards against more political integration, to protect countries that do not use the euro currency and to boost economic competitiveness.

Juncker warned all of the demands required hard work to reach agreement on.

"The issues put on the table by the British prime minister are all difficult issues," said Juncker, a former Luxembourg premier.

"Don't think there is one issue which would be particularly difficult - although it is and that's the welfare issue -- and that the other points mentioned by the British will be less important, and easy. They are not," he said.

"Even ever-closer union, the role of national parliaments, the relations between the ins and the outs in the euro system, all these are very, very difficult issues and we have to work hard in these days to come to agreements."

- States 'failed' on migrant crisis -

Meanwhile Juncker, who was speaking in his New Year press conference, accused EU states of failing to deliver on resolving the migration crisis facing the bloc, warning that it threatened the whole internal market.

He particularly tackled them over a deal to relocate thousands of asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, under which just 272 asylum seekers have been moved to other countries out of the 160,000 that European Union nations agreed to relocate.

"It's not the commission that has not delivered," said Juncker, the driving force behind the plans. "But a number of member states have failed to fully deliver on what we need to do and what needs to be done.".

Juncker vowed not to abandon the relocation scheme, which was finally approved in October over the opposition of several eastern European capitals, in a bid to tackle the worst migrant crisis since World War II, spawned largely by the Syria war.

Instead of working together for a common solution, he complained that member states were reintroducing border controls that ultimately threatened the Schengen system of passport-free travel and the broader EU project.

"Who kills Schengen will eventually put the internal market to the grave," Juncker said, adding it would lead to "an unemployment problem which will not be manageable any more."

Three more children drowned overnight while taking a boat from Turkey to the Greek islands, the main route for refugees and migrants to reach Europe, Greek police said.

The International Organisation for Migration says 3,771 migrants and refugees died crossing the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe in 2015, making the past year the deadliest on record.

A total of 1,004,356 migrants reached Europe in 2015, about five times the previous year's total.

© 2016 AFP

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