• EU Commission's Jonathan Faull says difficult issues remain
  • Leaders aiming to reach deal at next month's European summit

European Union leaders are likely to reach a deal shortly on David Cameron’s demands for changes to the U.K.’s terms of EU membership even as difficult issues remain, the European Commission’s chief negotiator said.

There is “momentum leading to, I think, a very good prospect that agreement will be reached rather soon,” Jonathan Faull told lawmakers in the European Parliament in Brussels on Thursday. “It was pretty clear in December that leaders wanted to resolve this issue but would take the time necessary to do it.”

The EU’s 28 national leaders are aiming to get an agreement at a Feb. 18-19 summit in Brussels after making some headway in December. Cameron needs support from all of them if he is to extract the concessions from the bloc he has promised before holding a referendum on staying in the EU to be held by the end of 2017. That vote may come as early as June.

“There will be very intensive discussions and, from what I can see, the political will to resolve this issue is very strong,” Faull said.

Lower level officials will prepare proposals by early February for the leaders to consider at the summit, Faull said.

Current Treaties

Faull has been leading the work on the issue for the EU Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, and has been tasked with exploring how the U.K.’s demands could fit within the EU’s existing rules.

The main sticking point remains Cameron’s determination to make citizens of other EU countries ineligible for in-work, housing and child-welfare payments until they have been in the U.K. for four years. At their summit last month, leaders indicated they might accept a compromise similar to opt-outs from certain EU rules that Denmark won in 1992.

While bureaucrats still don’t know for sure how the U.K. demands could be guaranteed in EU law, “there are many issues which in our view can be settled without violating the current treaties and without requiring any amendment to them,” Faull said.

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