Cameron 'not in a hurry' for EU deal
By Eszter Zalan
British prime minister David Cameron said Thursday (21 January) he would not take any EU deal if there were insufficient curbs to in-work benefits for migrants and that he was not in a hurry to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.
“If there isn’t the right deal, I’m not in a hurry, I can hold my referendum at any time until the end of 2017,” he told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, possibly setting the stage for a delay.
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“It is much more important to get it right, than to rush it,” Cameron added.
EU leaders are expected to have a deal on offer by their next EU summit in Brussels in mid-February.
In line with that, Cameron is widely expected to try to hold a referendum early in the summer, although he has given himself by the end of 2017 to do it.
In a sign that a deal is far from being done, French prime minister Manuel Valls warned also in Davos that Britain's demands for reform could not be met at any price, even if Britain leaving the EU would be a “tragedy”.
“Anything that allows us to simplify the organisation of Europe, yes. Anything that throws into doubt the foundations of the European project or the eurozone, no,” Valls said, setting out the red lines.
Cameron for his part said there was goodwill among his counterparts to find a deal for Britain.
“If there is a good deal on the table, I'll take it,” he said, adding it would be good for Britain and Europe that “we demonstrated that we can turn the good will there is into the actions that are necessary to put this question beyond doubt”.
Cameron’s most controversial request in his quest to reform the EU is a four-year ban on in-work benefits for EU migrants working in Britain.
Critics say it is discriminatory and threatens freedom of movement within the EU.
Negotiators have been looking for a compromise that would not discriminate against EU migrants, but would still be good for Cameron to convince voters to vote to remain in the EU.
In an upbeat speech in Davos, Cameron said his aim was to secure the future of Britain in a reformed EU. “That is the best outcome for Britain and for Europe,” he said.
Besides curbing in-work benefits, Cameron wants the EU to be more competitive, complete the single market, cut red tape, and to get assurances that decisions made within the eurozone will not be detrimental to countries outside the common currency.
He said that migration pressure in recent years has been “too great”, saying the net migration to Britain is 330,000 per year.
“It is not a concern about race, colour, creed. It is about numbers and pressure on public services and communities has been too great,” Cameron argued, saying that on the other hand he supported the idea of free movement.
Cameron also said that negotiations with European partners had made good progress.
“I hope we can, with the good will that is there, reach on agreement at the February council,” he said.