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Britain's Cameron to unveil EU demands ahead of exit vote

Update: November, 10/2015 - 12:19

LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron is to outline demands for changes to Britain's European Union membership today, ahead of a referendum on whether to remain in the bloc.

Cameron will demand more flexibility for Britain in a "shopping list" of changes to be detailed in a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk, before holding a referendum on the country's membership by 2017.

"The changes that Britain is seeking do not fall in the box marked 'impossible'," Cameron will say in a London speech on Tuesday, according to released remarks.

"The European Union has a record of solving intractable problems. It can solve this one."

The demands will focus on four areas: fairness between eurozone and non-eurozone countries; greater competitiveness; more power for parliaments and an exclusion for Britain from "ever closer union".

The fourth demand will be to "tackle abuses of the right to free movement, and enable us to control migration from the European Union, in line with my manifesto".

Cameron's centre-right Conservative Party's election platform proposed barring EU migrants from claiming tax credits and child benefit until they have lived in Britain for four years.

Cameron spoke with Tusk by phone in advance of the release, which will be accompanied by a meeting between British finance minister George Osborne and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

This will kick off a diplomatic offensive to try to secure changes, with the demands debated in Brussels by EU member states at a crunch summit in December.

Cameron is reported to favour a quick deal on the demands, with The Times reporting that he would hold the referendum next June if European leaders agree to most of his demands.

Opinion polls indicate it could be a tight race between Britons who favour remaining and those who want to leave the EU. The pro-EU side's lead has narrowed since the rival campaign launched in September.

Cameron has not ruled out campaigning to leave but advocates remaining in the bloc as long as reform is achieved.

'Deadly serious'

The letter comes nearly three years after promising a vote on Britain's membership and follows urging by EU allies for more detail on his demands.

Many of the points, including on competitiveness and an exemption for Britain from further integration, are not expected to be controversial.

But Cameron's demand for limits on welfare for EU migrants could prove contentious, and may bump up against non-discrimination principles in EU legislation.

At the same time, Cameron must strive to please Britain's eurosceptics, some of whom already suspect he has not gone far enough and plans to keep Britain in the EU regardless of what reforms are achieved.

Two protesters interrupted a speech Cameron delivered on Monday with heckles, chanting "Voice of Brussels!"

Europe minister David Lidington has told journalists that the letter to Tusk would not be too explicit due to the risk of Cameron later being seen to fall short of the aims.

"My advice to the prime minister has always been don't publish a detailed negotiating position," Lidington said last month, adding that once a deal was agreed, four months would pass before a vote would be held.

Cameron has said he will step down as prime minister by 2020, and a failure to achieve limits on benefits for EU migrants would be damaging to him and his party.

Boris Johnson, the major of London and seen as a potential successor to Cameron, emphasised in his regular column in the Telegraph that other EU states should not underestimate the levels of support for leaving in Britain.

"They still think we are bluffing... They think it is a fit, a fever," Johnson wrote.

"If we are to be successful in this negotiation, and stay in a reformed EU, then our friends and partners must understand that we are serious in our aims." — AFP

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