- Talks in Brussels focused on December gathering of EU leaders
- Series of discussions with nations has revealed opposition
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and European Union President Donald Tusk fleshed out the next phase of the U.K.’s negotiations on EU reform late Sunday as opposition among other nations in the bloc makes reaching a deal by the end of the year look increasingly difficult.
Cameron used the opportunity of being in Brussels for a meeting of EU leaders on Turkey to thrash out with Tusk what should happen when they all reconvene in December. The end-of-year summit had long been identified as the moment when governments would set out which of the U.K.’s demands they could accept and form a basis for Britain’s referendum on EU membership.
That timetable has started to slip following a series of what Tusk called “confessionals” between EU officials and representatives of all the other EU nations, in which significant opposition to several of Cameron’s demands emerged, notably to the proposal to deny some benefits to non-British EU workers in the U.K.
Following the meeting, a Number 10 spokesperson said there would be a “substantive discussion” at next month’s summit as planned. It was not immediately clear whether leaders would try to reach a deal then or, as now seems more likely, merely hold a preliminary debate.
While the negotiations are making good progress, some issues are more difficult than others and discussions are continuing with the EU’s nations, the spokesperson said.
Cameron set out his key demands for EU reform earlier this month. With the U.K. set to hold a vote on its membership in the 28-nation bloc before the end of 2017, the success of the prime minister’s wishlist, which needs approval from the other EU governments, will be crucial.
In a letter to Tusk, Cameron said he was proposing that “people coming to Britain from the EU must live here and contribute for four years before they qualify for in-work benefits or social housing,” something that would currently be in breach of the bloc’s rules.
In addition to greater controls on migration, the U.K. also is demanding better protection of the rights of countries outside the euro area, an increase in economic competitiveness within the EU and giving national parliaments more powers.
Cameron also late Sunday was due to hold a meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, one of the leaders that Britain considers sympathetic to many of its demands. He will continue discussing the issue with other government chiefs at the United Nations climate talks that start in Paris on Monday.
The EU’s other 27 countries may not be ready for “sufficient discussion” on the U.K.’s reform demands in December, Jonathan Faull, a Briton who is leading the European Commission’s task force on the U.K’s renegotiations, told the Irish parliament last week.
“It is hoped that if it’s not possible to reach final decisions in December then the couple of months between then and February will be used to resolve outstanding differences,” Faull said in Dublin on Nov. 25.