Cameron to hold crucial 'Brexit' talks with EU today

16 February 2016

British Prime Minister David Cameron will today hold talks with the head of the European Parliament on a deal to avoid Britain crashing out of the European Union, ahead of a crunch summit this week.

Cameron will meet Martin Schulz and leaders of the two main political groups in the assembly, hoping to find a sympathetic ear over reforms he is demanding to avoid a so-called "Brexit" from the 28-member bloc.

European Union chief Donald Tusk on Monday said the EU was at a "critical moment" in its history, warning during a visit to Romania that "the risk of break-up is real because this process is indeed very fragile".

Britain has been pushing for a change to EU rules, including limiting welfare benefits for migrants and to protect countries that do not use the euro, ahead of an "in-out" referendum expected in June.

Downing Street indicated a deal on the reforms is expected at a summit on Thursday and Friday, after Cameron held last-minute talks with French President Francois Hollande.

They "agreed that we are making good progress on the UK renegotiation and that the draft text from the European Council provides a firm basis to reach agreement at this week`s summit", the prime minister`s spokesman said after the talks in Paris on Monday.

The upbeat assessment came after a French official warned earlier in the day that while there was "political willingness" to clinch an agreement, "more work is needed, particularly on economic governance".

The EU is already grappling with the biggest migration crisis in 70 years (See: 2015 creates global refugee record: UNHCR)  and signs the sluggish euro zone economy could once again be stalling.

Debate over Britain`s future in the bloc has also struck a political nerve, with heavyweight France reportedly concerned about protections London is demanding for members that do not use the single currency. Cameron had been expected to attend a gathering of presidents from each of the European Parliament`s groupings in Brussels today, but instead will only hold bilateral meetings.

The anti-EU UK Independence Party accused Cameron of being "chicken" after he pulled out of a meeting that would have included its leader Nigel Farage.

Tusk will also meet with Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras in Prague and Athens as part of his own whirlwind diplomatic push ahead of the summit.

Whatever deal the premier strikes is unlikely to satisfy all factions in Britain, including some within his own Conservative Party.

Facing pressure from ministers who want to reject the deal and declare their support for leaving the EU, Cameron could announce the date of the referendum on Friday if a deal is agreed, British newspaper the Daily Telegraph reported.

A eurosceptic rally is due to be held in London on Friday evening.

Even if the bloc`s leaders agree the changes Cameron wants, the European Parliament must still approve them.


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