German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday (6 January) she wanted talks to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership of the European Union to produce a “reasonable package” that would keep Britain in the bloc.
EU leaders have given officials until February to sort out the details of a deal.
“Throughout these next weeks, it is especially important that we make decisions in our own interest in order to achieve a reasonable package that will allow Great Britain to remain a part of the European Union,” Merkel said before a dinner with British Prime Minister David Cameron in southern Germany.
“But ultimately, this is of course the decision of British citizens,” she added.
In a speech to German lawmakers last month, Merkel called Britain a “natural ally”, stressing its importance to Europe’s internal free market and its weight in foreign policy debates. She said she was “confident” a solution would be found.
Cameron has promised to secure better terms for Britain before holding a referendum on continued membership. Last month, he gave his strongest hint yet that he would hold the vote this year.
In an article for Bild, Cameron appealed to Germany to help him achieve the reforms he needs to persuade Britons to remain in the EU.
“Support for our membership has declined over many years. So I am negotiating changes which will address the concerns of the British people,” Cameron says in the article. “But these changes will benefit the EU too, and Germany can help deliver them.”
Key sticking point
A key sticking point for several EU members is Cameron’s aim to restrict benefits for EU migrants for their first four years in Britain.
Critics of the plan say the measure would harm the EU’s central tenets of non-discrimination between EU citizens and freedom of movement between member states.
While Merkel is seen as generally supportive of Britain’s position, she has stressed that “the fundamental achievements of European integration” are not up for debate.
“We want to stop people taking out from a welfare system without contributing to it first,” Cameron wrote. He continued: “Like Germany, Britain believes in the principle of free movement of workers. But that should not mean the current freedom to claim all benefits from day one and that’s why I’ve proposed restricting this for the first four years.”
Cameron is later expected to travel to Hungary for talks with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Highlighting divisions over the EU, Cameron on Tuesday said his ministers would be allowed to campaign for or against Britain’s EU membership ahead of the referendum.
A poll last month indicated that Britons’ support for remaining within the EU would drop significantly if he did not secure measures to restrict benefits for migrant workers and to ensure London’s financial dominance is not challenged by closer integration of the single currency zone, which Britain has not joined.