German Chancellor Angela Merkel advocated a “serious and conscientious” debate about U.K. demands for a changed relationship with the European Union, while saying that any overhaul can only go so far.
Addressing the lower house of parliament in Berlin, Merkel signaled she wants Prime Minister David Cameron to get a fair hearing from all 27 of the U.K.’s EU partners, though fundamental EU principles, “including the principle of free movement and the principle of non-discrimination, are non-negotiable.” Detailed talks on the U.K.’s demands aren’t foreseen at next week’s EU summit in Brussels, she said.
“When we talk about competitiveness, the U.K. is a natural ally,” Merkel said in her speech Thursday. “That’s one reason, but by far not the only one, why I would like to see Great Britain continue as an active partner in a strong European Union.”
As Greece’s debt crisis consumes Merkel’s attention, her comments were a reminder that the next challenge to EU unity already looms. Cameron has said he’ll hold an in-or-out referendum on U.K. membership in the EU by the end of 2017, and will try to win backing for a “reformed” EU before such a vote.
It’s unlikely that Cameron will get an “in-depth” hearing at the EU summit starting June 25, Merkel said. EU President Donald Tusk will be commissioned to coordinate a common “process” to tackle the U.K.’s proposals “when the time is right,” she said.
Cameron met officials in Brussels this week as part of his effort to sound out fellow EU leaders face-to-face before the summit. A spokesman for Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said Cameron’s bid to curb access to welfare benefits for workers from other European countries was a non-starter, while Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said “nobody wants a discriminatory solution” to the issue.