PM tells EC president Britons ‘unhappy with status quo’

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David Cameron has told European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that “British people are not happy with the status quo” in Europe.

The prime minister hosted Mr Juncker at Chequers ahead of a week of efforts to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership.

The EC president “reiterated that he wanted to find a fair deal for the UK”, said a No 10 spokesman after the talks.

The meeting came as reports suggest France and Germany are planning to announce further eurozone integration.

French newspaper Le Monde is reporting that the two countries have agreed a deal to bring about closer political union between eurozone countries without the need for changes to the treaties which govern the EU.

Mr Cameron has argued that treaty changes are needed to bring about the reforms he wants – creating a two-tier Europe, with closer integration between eurozone countries and Britain exempted from the drive for “ever closer union” between member states.

‘Reforming the EU’

The prime minister’s call for tougher benefit restrictions on new migrants – expected to be a key demand in renegotiation talks – would also need to be agreed by all member states.

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The chances of getting a new treaty ratified in 28 countries by the end of 2017, in time for Britain to hold its planned in/out referendum, are remote, according to the BBC’s Europe correspondent Chris Morris.

But, he adds, member states have been allowed to change their relationship with the EU in the past and for those changes to be included in future treaties, something that could be presented as a treaty change by Mr Cameron ahead of Britain’s referendum.

The talks between Mr Cameron and Mr Juncker on Monday focused on “reforming the EU and renegotiating the UK’s relationship with it”, the No 10 spokesman said.

“The prime minister underlined that the British people are not happy with the status quo and believe that the EU needs to change in order to better address their concerns.

“Mr Juncker reiterated that he wanted to find a fair deal for the UK and would seek to help.

“They talked through the issue at some length in the spirit of finding solutions to these problems. They agreed that more discussion would be needed, including with other leaders, on the best way forward.”

‘Worthless’

The two men also discussed the Greek economic situation, as well as Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, Downing Street added.

Mr Juncker is opposed to treaty changes but Eurosceptic MPs argue it is not possible to have meaningful negotiations without them.

Conservative backbencher, Bernard Jenkin, said the Le Monde leak “went to the heart” of what the prime minister’s promised renegotiation was about.

“The treaties aren’t designed to allow different states to do different things. It is all assumed that we will all be involved with integration,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

UKIP MP Douglas Carswell said before the meeting that the prime minister’s promised renegotiation would be “more or less worthless” as it would not “fundamentally change our relationship with Europe”.

Over the coming days, Mr Cameron will travel to France, Germany, Denmark, Poland and the Netherlands to hold talks with European leaders.

Earlier, No 10 confirmed UK-based citizens from most EU countries would not get a vote in the referendum. The eligibility rules will be broadly the same as for a general election, rather than for local or European polls.

Legislation on the voting eligibility for the referendum will be introduced to Parliament via the EU Referendum Bill. It will say:

  • British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 who are resident in the UK will be eligible to vote
  • So too will UK nationals who have lived overseas for less than 15 years
  • The franchise will not include 16 and 17-year-olds, unlike the Scottish independence referendum
  • Members of the House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar will also be allowed to vote, although they cannot participate in general elections
  • In total, about 45.3 million people will be able to take part

A No 10 source said about the franchise: “This is a big decision for our country, one that is about the future of the United Kingdom. That’s why we think it’s important that it is British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens that are the ones who get to decide.”

Eurosceptics have previously claimed that as many as 1.5 million people from other EU countries could have been allowed to vote in the referendum, if it had taken place under the rules for local government elections.

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