Germany's Merkel to visit UK as Cameron seeks EU reform backing

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 10, 2014 8:17 AM

By William James

LONDON (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel will discuss the future of the European Union with Prime Minister David Cameron on a visit to London this month, as Britain seeks support for a sweeping overhaul of EU treaties.

Cameron has yet to spell out all his proposals, but has made it clear he wants to curb immigration from new member states, cut red tape and improve competition.

He has so far garnered only limited backing for his reform plans among other EU states, but hopes to secure a new deal if re-elected next year before holding a referendum on Britain's EU membership by 2017. Any signs of support from Germany, the bloc's biggest economy, would strengthen his campaign.

Merkel will visit around February 27, according to two sources, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. One said she would address parliament.

Only a few foreign leaders, including Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama, have addressed the British assembly. The diplomatic privilege was last extended to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2013.

The pomp and ceremony expected for Merkel's visit will contrast with an Anglo-French summit last month when President Francois Hollande and Cameron held a joint news conference in an aircraft hangar before sharing a low-key pub lunch.

Britain's ties with Germany are warmer than those with France. Merkel and Cameron are center-right politicians and Berlin has been more open to his ideas on EU reform than Paris.

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With a national election approaching in 2015, EU treaty renegotiation is seen as an important test of Cameron's authority over his ruling Conservative party, which has suffered long-standing divisions over Europe. Many British voters are unhappy over perceived EU interference in Britain's affairs.

When he visited London, Hollande poured cold water on the prospect of treaty reform, saying it was not a French priority.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in the British capital last week he was not against discussing changes to the treaties, but warned Britain against trying to backtrack on European integration.

(Editing by Andrew Osborn and Alistair Lyon)