Britain, EU scramble for reform deal

British and EU officials were set Monday to continue tough negotiations on reforms demanded by London, with a European Commission spokesman warning that the two sides are still far from reaching a deal that can be put to the bloc's other leaders.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking a series of changes to the country's relationship with the European Union, before putting its continued membership in the bloc to a referendum. But several of the issues face tough resistance, as they touch on basic EU rights.

In the last three days, Cameron has met with commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU President Donald Tusk in an effort to hammer out proposals that could be put to the other 27 leaders at their next summit, on February 18-19.

"Progress has been made at the political and technical level ... however we are not there yet," said commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas, adding that the discussions would continue on Monday.

One of the most controversial demands is the restriction of in-work benefits for other European citizens for an initial four-year period, in an effort to curb intra-EU migration to Britain.

Following Sunday's talks between Cameron and Tusk, London announced that progress had been made on the use of a so-called emergency brake that would restrict in-work benefits for non-British citizens if Britain can show that its welfare system is overwhelmed.

"The commission have tabled a text making clear that the UK's current circumstances meet the criteria for triggering the emergency brake," Cameron's spokesperson said.

But Schinas urged caution, noting that "nothing is ... agreed until everything is agreed." Any deal needs to be approved by all other EU member states, he noted.

Resistance has come from Eastern European countries in particular, many of whose citizens have sought work in other member states.

Cameron's other demands, among others, concern:

- The relationship of non-eurozone members, such as Britain, to those sharing the common European currency

- A cutback of bureaucracy

- The extent of countries' sovereignty within the EU

"It is not enough for the commission and the council [of EU member states'] lawyers to agree. This is a process that is run at 28 and the commission works for all 28 member states of the EU," Schinas said.

Other EU capitals have not yet seen or discussed the draft proposals, Schinas said. If the talks with London are successful, Tusk is expected to publish his proposal in the coming days.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49
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