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Cameron embarks on delicate European charm offensive

© Suzanne Plunkett, AFP | British Prime Minister David Cameron (right) in a meeting with European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker, on May 25, 2015

Text by Aude MAZOUE

Latest update : 2015-05-27

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron this week faces a delicate task when he embarks on a whirlwind diplomatic tour to try to convince European leaders to help him push for a string of EU reforms to scale back Brussel's overriding political powers.

The tour comes on the back of Cameron’s campaign pledge to reshape Britain’s ties with the European Union, which helped his Conservative Party win an outright majority in the May 7 elections.

Under pressure from eurosceptics, the British prime minister promised in 2013 to hold a referendum on whether Britain should leave Europe by 2017 if he won the general election.

On Wednesday, Queen Elizabeth II confirmed the government’s plans to hold an in-or-out EU vote as she read out a list of proposed legislation at the State Opening of Parliament in London.

“My government will renegotiate the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union and pursue reform of the European Union for the benefit of all member states,” the queen said in her speech.

The law will be introduced on Thursday, just as Cameron sets out on his two-day EU tour that will take him to the Netherlands, France, Poland and Germany, where he will lay down a blueprint of planned reforms which aim to claw back power from Brussels and include sensitive changes to migration and welfare policies.

“This trip is about (Cameron) trying to get a rough idea about who is on his side and who he will still need to win over,” Raoul Ruparel, co-director of the influential European affairs think-tank Open Europe, told FRANCE 24.

“He will have to explain what his vision of the EU is and how it can work better for everyone and not just Britain,” he said.

Cameron had previously said that if he was able to push through the reforms, he would campaign in favour of Britain remaining part of the 28-nation bloc.

The prime minister’s aim is to have talked to all other 27 EU leaders before a European Council summit at the end of June.

No easy task

In his campaign to shore up support among his European counterparts, analysts say the British leader has to be extremely diplomatic in how he presents his shopping list of changes to the EU, to not come across as too UK-centric.

Yves Bertoncini, director of the Paris-based think-tank Institut Jacques Delors, said that while “Denmark and the Netherlands are expected to lend Cameron a supportive ear when it comes to (curbing) migration… Germany and Sweden, who need migration for the sake of their economies, are sure to be opposed”.

Cameron has previously stated that changes to rules on welfare benefits are an absolute requirement in the renegotiation process. He wants to force EU migrants to wait four years before accessing a range of welfare benefits in Britain, and to win the power to deport out-of-work EU jobseekers after six months.

Given that Cameron will need unanimous support from EU’s members in order to push through any treaty changes, Bertoncini said the British premier is dealing with “a real challenge” to get everyone on board.

If Cameron fails to show his electorate that he has been able to renegotiate Britain’s position ahead of the referendum, Britain could very well be heading towards an EU exit – but without any of the necessary alliances in place, Bertoncini said.

“The United Kingdom would find itself in a hopeless situation, and be pressured from all corners. Neither the Europeans nor the Americans have any interest in losing this powerful ally in the heart of Europe.”

This story has been translated from the original in French.

Date created : 2015-05-27


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