Germany Cites EU Anti-`Brexit' Plan as Good Start Toward Deal

  • EU president's proposal seen as `ambitious' to assuage Britain
  • Merkel wants `strong U.K. within a strong European Union'

Germany welcomed a European Union proposal for keeping Britain in the bloc as a good basis for further talks and Poland held out the prospect of a deal at an EU summit this month.

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel seeks to avert a U.K. exit, EU President Donald Tusk’s plan is an “ambitious package” that meets Prime Minister David Cameron’s main demands, her chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in Berlin on Wednesday. France views the proposal as a foundation for talks among EU leaders, though “red lines” remain, government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said in Paris.

“In the end our goal is to have a total package that allows Prime Minister Cameron to lead a strong referendum campaign in favor of staying,” Germany’s Seibert said, declining to comment on details such as restrictions on benefits for foreign workers. Merkel “has made clear many times that, for us, a strong U.K. within a strong European Union is very important,” he said.

Cameron said he’s ready to begin his push to keep the U.K. in the EU after Tusk unveiled his proposal, which also offers a four-year “emergency brake” on welfare for new migrants from the EU, safeguards to shield the U.K. financial system from interference by euro-area regulators and more powers for national parliaments.

“Many of our expectations regarding the future of the EU are reflected in the proposal,” Poland’s Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement. “Reaching a compromise is possible at the February summit,” though key issues remain unresolved, according to the statement.

France wants any agreement with the U.K. to be within existing EU treaties and to exclude non-euro countries from the running of the euro area, Le Foll said.

Europe’s Economy

The debate about the U.K.’s future in the EU is an opportunity to discuss the shape of Europe’s economy, Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said in Rome. EU countries need to open up more to the global economy and invest in innovation, he said at an event with U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne on Wednesday.

Cameron must convince British voters that he’s wrested concessions from other EU member states as he prepares for an in-or-out referendum to be held as early as June. As European nations warn about the consequences of a so-called Brexit, Cameron also has to persuade the other 27 member states to work with him for a deal.

“We’re assessing this package in all of its details -- and it will depend on whether all member states agree on an offer to the U.K.” at the Feb. 18-19 EU summit in Brussels, said Seibert, who called the EU blueprint for change a “good basis” for negotiations.

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