By William James
German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised on Friday to work with David Cameron to clinch a deal on reforming the European Union that would keep Britain in the bloc, saying “where there’s a will there’s a way”.
Both leaders, fellow conservatives with a good personal rapport, dodged the question of whether Cameron’s demands for changes to the EU treaty were achievable before Britain holds a referendum on its membership of the bloc.
Merkel herself has backed the idea of treaty change in past years to bed down closer integration of euro zone countries, but German officials now acknowledge there is little appetite for this in other European capitals, making it unrealistic.
“I will go into these discussions constructively. I want to find a solution,” Merkel said.
Cameron, who won a second term as prime minister on May 7, said he hoped and believed that Europe would show flexibility towards one of its “larger countries, a big contributor, a major European player”.
“It is a strength to be able to accommodate different nation-states with their different desires and different beliefs,” said Cameron, who was greeted with a guard of honour in Berlin.
He reiterated that his preference was to stay in a reformed European Union but made clear nothing could be ruled out if Britain’s demands were not met.
“We’re two centre-right leaders and we have a similar outlook on many issues, we believe in fiscal responsibility, both at home and in the European Union, we believe in free markets, we believe in the Atlantic relationship, we believe in free trade,” Cameron said.
A source in Cameron’s office said Merkel’s approach showed a welcome open-mindedness to the possibility of treaty change.
Cameron wants to restrict EU migrants’ access to British welfare, improve the single market, and win safeguards to ensure countries outside the euro zone are not put at a disadvantage by greater integration.
He also wants to make sure Britain is not bound by the bloc’s aim of ever-closer integration. Cameron is due to set out his reform proposals in more detail on June 25-26.
Cameron’s meeting with Merkel, the most powerful leader in the EU, was seen as the headline stop in a four-country diplomatic tour of Europe which also included visits to the Netherlands, France and Poland.
He got mixed receptions.
French President Francois Hollande said he wanted Britain to stay in the union but French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius issued a warning.
“They (Britain) have joined the football club, but in the middle of a match you can’t say let’s play rugby,” Fabius said.
In Warsaw, Cameron was told that Poland would be firm over the rights of Polish migrants in Britain and that it would not countenance treaty change.
“We want Great Britain to stay in the EU. But the interest of Poles, our citizens who live in Great Britain is important,” Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna told public broadcaster TVP1.
About 800,000 Poles live in Britain, as well as many other Eastern Europeans.
The source in Cameron’s office said he intended to speak with all 27 countries in the bloc before the EU council meeting at the end of June.