Juncker Says U.K.-EU Negotiations Entering `Delicate Period'

  • Controls on migrant payments are `very difficult issues'
  • Osborne feels 'pretty optimistic' U.K. will get EU deal

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the U.K.’s renegotiation of its European Union membership is “entering a very delicate period,” as leaders prepare for a summit next month where they hope to reach a deal.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said on Thursday he was “pretty optimistic” the U.K. will secure sufficient concessions to persuade voters to stay in the 28-nation bloc. The main sticking point is whether Britain will be allowed to restrict welfare payments to EU citizens who move there for work.

“All these are very, very difficult issues,” Juncker told a press conference in Brussels Friday. “We have to work hard in these days to come to common, not only ideas, but to agreements.”

Juncker’s comments will help Prime Minister David Cameron as he argues that he is working hard to get a deal. Those arguing for Britain to leave the EU have criticized him for not asking for more in his renegotiation.

After meeting with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaueble in Berlin on Thursday, Osborne said he ruled “nothing out” if demands aren’t met. Still, he hinted at a possible compromise on the most contentious aspect of its renegotiation with the EU.

‘Essential Pieces’

“I see the essential pieces of the deal falling into place,” Osborne said in an interview with BBC Television broadcast on Thursday evening. “I think we’re also going to be able to deal with the abuse of free movement and people traveling just to claim our welfare benefits.”

Ministers are seeking to reach a deal at the next EU summit in February, paving the way for a referendum in June. Cameron, who has pledged to hold the vote by the end of 2017, faces opposition from some within his own party, including members of his government, who say they will campaign for an exit.

“What we want to do is avoid a situation where that free movement, which was designed for people seeking, not seeking work but going to work, is abused and used by people who don’t have work or people who principally are coming to make use of our welfare system,” Osborne said.

The European Commission’s chief negotiator, Jonathan Faull, said earlier Thursday that EU leaders are likely to reach a deal shortly on Britain’s demands for changes to its terms of membership, even as the sticking points remain.

Cameron and Osborne, who in the interview referred to himself as a “euroskeptic,” are trying to deflect criticism that they are pushing to keep Britain in the bloc at too high a cost to national interest.

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