BRUSSELS (AP) — Britain’s attempt to forge a new relationship with the European Union has officially started — with positive words but little detail, and months of tough negotiations ahead.
Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted Friday that he had made “significant progress” at a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels. “It’s been agreed a renegotiation of our membership of the EU can begin.”
Britain will hold a referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017, and Cameron wants major changes to the U.K.’s relationship with the 28-nation bloc as a condition of remaining in.
At Thursday’s meeting, EU leaders agreed to begin talks on Britain’s wishes, though that was far from the summit’s priority. Cameron spoke on the topic for only a few minutes during talks preoccupied with the Greek debt crisis and the thousands of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
EU President Donald Tusk said “we should consider British concerns, but only in a way that will be safe for all of Europe.”
“The fundamental values of the EU are not for sale and so are non-negotiable,” he said.
Civil servants will now draw up detailed plans for talks, and EU leaders will return to the issue in December.
Cameron will likely find allies on his bid to ensure protection for the nine EU countries, including Britain, that are not part of the euro single currency, and in efforts to win more powers for national parliaments to stop planned EU laws.
But Britain’s desire to tighten its grip on immigration will face strong opposition, since citizens’ right to live and work in other member states is a fundamental EU principle. Cameron’s plan to limit welfare benefits to new arrivals for as much as four years could prove a tough sell.
Failure to win major changes would be seized on by British Eursoskeptics — including many within Cameron’s Conservative Party — as evidence the country would be better off going it alone.
Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas said Europe was open to Britain’s ideas, and he hoped Cameron’s renegotiation would succeed.
“Because the EU is much better off with Britain inside … Britain is better off while as a member of the EU,” he told the BBC.
Lawless reported from London.
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