EU's Tusk to unveil British deal proposal Tuesday

1st February 2016, Comments 0 comments

EU president Donald Tusk said he will unveil proposals on Tuesday for changes to Britain's membership of the bloc, paving the way for David Cameron to try for a tricky deal at a summit later this month.

Former Polish premier Tusk acknowledged that there were still "outstanding issues" but said there had been progress in the day since his talks with Prime Minister Cameron in London ended without agreement Sunday.

A deal sealed in February would allow Cameron to push ahead with a referendum on Britain's European Union membership in his favoured month of June, although he must first overcome opposition from several EU states.

"Tomorrow around noon (1100 GMT) I will table proposal for a new settlement for #UKinEU. Good progress last 24 hours but still outstanding issues," Tusk wrote on Twitter.

The announcement came 22 hours after he and Cameron set diplomats a 24-hour deadline to thrash out an agreement.

There was no immediate reaction from the British government.

London's bid to transform its membership of the EU has sparked turmoil, coming as the 28-nation alliance struggles with the biggest influx of migrants since World War II and the fallout from the eurozone debt crisis.

- 'Hard work' -

Cameron's spokesman had earlier warned that there was more work to do before any proposal from Tusk was likely.

"There is more hard work to be done," the spokesman told reporters in London. "We are making progress but there's more work to do in all four areas -- more work in some areas than others."

The four demands include safeguarding EU countries like Britain that are not part of the euro single currency, ensuring greater EU economic competitiveness, opting out of the goal of ever closer union and restricting access to benefits for EU workers in Britain.

Downing Street hailed "substantial" signals from the European Commission on a deal for a so-called "welfare brake" that would allow London to exclude EU migrants from benefits, such as income top-ups for low-paid workers.

The Commission -- the powerful executive arm of the EU which is responsible for initiating legislation -- said earlier there was "progress" but stressed that any deal still needed the backing of all 28 EU nations.

"We are not there yet. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed," Margaritis Schinas, spokesman for Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, told reporters.

Although Cameron has only set a deadline of the end of 2017 to hold the in-out EU referendum and insists he is in "no hurry" for a deal, sources have said he is keen to push a vote through by June.

That would avoid any new flare-up in Europe's migration crisis this summer and before British eurosceptics, particularly in his own Conservative party, become even more unruly.

- French red line -

Other countries have objected strongly to Cameron's demands for a limit to benefits for EU workers, saying it was discriminatory and could require change to the EU's founding treaties, a very difficult procedure.

Central European states with hundreds of thousands of citizens working in Britain have been particularly vocal about the plans.

But a new challenge arose on Sunday when Paris set a red line by warning London that it would block the proposal on protection for non-euro countries if it went too far.

"To French officials, any provisions giving non-euro countries power to indefinitely stall eurozone votes are unacceptable," the Financial Times reported, saying France would reject any "backdoor veto" for the City of London finance hub.

Cameron's spokesman played down the report.

"We're not seeking to stand in the way of further euro integration," he said.

"It's not about the UK being able to veto further eurozone integration, it's about having clear principles on the way for enforcing it," he added

Opinion polls are largely split on whether Britons would vote to leave the EU in a so-called "Brexit".

It will be the British public's first vote on the country's EU membership since 1975, two years after it joined what was then the European Economic Community.

© 2016 AFP

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