Cameron calls for `flexible and imaginative` EU reforms

PARIS: British Prime Minister David Cameron called for `flexible and imaginative` reforms from the EU as he swung through Paris on Thursday on a tour of Europe to lobby for changes to the 28-nation bloc.

Cameron`s two-day tour came as his government published a law paving the way for a vote on whether Britain should leave the EU that must be held by the end of 2017.

The prime minister has moved rapidly to kick start efforts to secure EU reforms before the referendum which he promised voters ahead of his surprise election win earlier this month.

`The status quo is not good enough and I think there are changes that can be made that can benefit not just Britain but the rest of Europe too,` Cameron said before a dinner with French President Francois Hollande in Paris.

`My priority is to reform the European Union to make it more competitive and to address the concerns that British people have about our membership. We want to help the euro zone work better`.

Hollande said that France wanted Britain to remain in the European Union, but that `it will be up to the British people to choose their future`. `David Cameron will present his proposals and we will discuss them and see how we can move forward,` he added.

The British premier intends to speak to every EU leader before a summit in Brussels next month where the proposed British reforms will be discussed in more detail.

He met his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte for lunch in The Hague on Thursday and will meet on Friday with Polish premier Ewa Kopacz and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Before Cameron set off, a British official said there were `27 nuts to crack` to secure concessions.

In a sign of Europe`s unease over the looming referendum, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned on Thursday that the vote was `very risky` and `quite dangerous`.

Cameron said earlier this week he was `confident` of securing a deal, but warned there would be `lots of noise, lots of ups and downs along the way`.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said there would need to be `a substantial package of reform` on Europe.

`If we are not able to deliver on these big areas of concern that the British people have, we will not win the referendum when it comes,` he told BBC radio.

Among changes Cameron is seeking are tougher requirements for EU migrants to claim state benefits in Britain. He also wants Britain to be able to opt out of the commitment to `ever closer union`.

`What matters is that the European Union and its 28 members are flexible and imaginative about responding to these issues,` Cameron said.

If Cameron can secure the concessions he wants, he will campaign to stay in the EU. Most opinion polls currently suggest voters would also back remaining part of the bloc.

Fabius added that you could not `join a football club and decide in the middle of the match we are now going to play rugby`.

No precise date has been set for the referendum in which British voters will be asked: `Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union? `The question emerged in the EU Referendum Bill, which was formally laid before parliament and will be debated by the House of Commons for the first time on June 9.-AFP

Published in Dawn