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Cameron meets former foe Juncker for EU reform talks

Update: May, 26/2015 - 11:33

LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday as he kickstarted diplomatic efforts to secure EU reforms ahead of a referendum on the country's membership.

Cameron promised British voters an in-out EU referendum by 2017 as part of his successful campaign to win a second term in office in this month's general election.

"The talks focused on reforming the EU and renegotiating the UK's relationship with it," a spokesman for Cameron's office 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."

The talks and a dinner of pork belly and a lime cream dessert at the prime minister's country retreat Chequers came ahead of Cameron's meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande later in the week.

Although the two had a strained relationship in the past and Cameron fought to block Juncker being appointed head of the European Union's executive body last year, the former Luxembourg prime minister told the British leader he would try to help find a fair deal for the country.

"They talked through the issue at some length in the spirit of finding solutions to these problems," Cameron's spokesman said.

"They agreed that more discussion would be needed, including with other leaders, on the best way forward." The Conservative leader is meeting European leaders to try and secure reforms on issues such as immigration, welfare eligibility and the power to refuse further integration before the referendum, which could take place as soon as 2016.

On Thursday and Friday, Cameron will visit a series of European capitals, meeting the leaders of Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Poland and Germany to seek support.

The prime minister aims to speak to all 27 other leaders of EU member states before a European Council summit at the end of next month.

'Fitting' rules on EU vote

Cameron kicked off months of negotiations on Friday at a summit of the 28-nation bloc and six former Soviet states in Riga, his first overseas trip since winning the election on May 7.

Cameron said he was "confident" of securing a deal, but warned there would be "lots of noise, lots of ups and downs along the way" from other European states questioning his proposals.

His meeting with Juncker came after he announced that citizens of most EU countries who are resident in Britain would not be able to vote in the in-out referendum.

As is normal in British general elections, British people aged over 18 and United Kingdom residents who are from Ireland or the Commonwealth – the 53-member organisation mostly made up of countries formerly part of the British empire – will be able to vote.

This includes residents from the EU nations Malta and Cyprus.

EU citizens living in Scotland were able to vote in its independence referendum in 2014, and can vote in British local government elections.

Labour's shadow foreign minister Hilary Benn criticised the voting rules, saying 16 and 17-year-olds should take part as "a matter of principle".

But the decision was welcomed by Conservative parliamentarian Liam Fox, a prominent eurosceptic.

"This is a fitting response by the government," Fox said in a statement.

"Allowing EU citizens to vote in our referendum would have been an unacceptable dilution of the voice of the British people."

Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar and British nationals who have lived abroad for fewer than 15 years would also be able to vote.

Cameron has pushed ahead swiftly for the referendum since winning a surprise majority in the election, and will introduce legislation for holding the referendum in parliament on Thursday. — AFP


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