British leader in Brussels ahead of key talks on EU future

AP News
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Posted: Feb 16, 2016 8:07 AM
British leader in Brussels ahead of key talks on EU future

BRUSSELS (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron won a commitment from the European Parliament chief Tuesday that the assembly will "do its utmost" to back any fair deal on the EU reforms Cameron is seeking this week ahead of a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EU.

Cameron wants European leaders at the two-day summit starting Thursday to boost national decision-making for London, including ways to limit welfare payments to EU workers coming to Britain.

The British leader held talks Tuesday amid warnings that any reform package could be vetoed by lawmakers after the referendum because it will not be secured by a change in the EU treaty.

At the same time, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told EU legislators the bloc is not planning for any British departure, the so-called "Brexit."

"I am not entering into the details of a plan B, because we don't have a plan B, we have a plan A — Britain will stay in the European Union as a constructive and active member," Juncker said.

Even if European Parliament President Martin Schulz said he wanted any deal to remain within the framework of the EU treaty, he did promise cooperation where possible.

"The European Parliament will do its utmost to support compromise and a fair deal but I cannot pre-empt the result" of the legislators, Schulz said after meeting with Cameron.

"To be quite clear, no government can go to a parliament and say 'this is our proposal, can you give a guarantee about the result?'" he said.

In Athens, EU Council President Donald Tusk was drumming up support two days ahead of the summit for a deal that would keep Britain in the EU. He spoke of the "still fragile negotiations," which have hit snags especially in social welfare and on relations between the euro nations and Britain's financial center, the City of London.

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin insisted that eurozone nations should have a free hand to increase their cooperation whatever London may think about that.

"We have a eurozone, and it has to deepen," he said of the 19 nations that share the euro currency, and from which Britain has decided to opt out. "There is still progress to be made, integration to put into place. And no one should be able to dictate how we should do so."

Sapin's comments came a day after Cameron held talks in Paris with French President Francois Hollande. Cameron's Downing Street office says the leaders agreed that a draft of reforms "provides a firm basis to reach agreement at this week's summit."

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Lori Hinnant in Paris and Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed.