BRUSSELS (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron expects a “substantive discussion” with fellow EU leaders next month on his demands for reforms of the bloc, officials said after talks on Sunday with the EU’s chief negotiator.
“All EU leaders will have a substantive discussion of the UK renegotiation at next month’s European Council as planned,” Cameron’s office said in a statement after he met European Council President Donald Tusk following an EU meeting in Brussels.
EU officials echoed the British statement that there had been “good progress” in negotiations aimed at persuading Cameron that he can urge voters to support continued membership of the European Union in a referendum he plans within two years.
But EU officials also cautioned that, while the British reform demands would be on the agenda of the next European Council on Dec. 17-18, it would be difficult to reach a final deal. That assessment tallies with the view of many EU diplomats involved in talks with Tusk’s staff this month.
Tusk, a fellow conservative and the former prime minister of Poland, met Cameron after both took part in a summit with the Turkish premier on Europe’s migration crisis.
Officials said they discussed the round of talks that Tusk’s staff have held with representatives of all 27 other member states since Cameron sent a formal letter on Nov. 10 setting out changes he wants if he is not to push for Britain to leave.
Cameron’s office said: “They agreed that we continue to make good progress. While some areas are more difficult than others, discussions are ongoing with member states to find solutions and agree reforms in all four areas outlined in the PM’s letter.
“These discussions will continue in the coming days, including with bilaterals (meetings) between the PM and other European leaders in Paris tomorrow,” it added, referring to the gathering on Monday for the start of U.N. climate talks.
Also in Brussels on Sunday, Cameron secured a mixture of support and warning from the new government of Poland, a major player in negotiations as the biggest of ex-Communist eastern EU states concerned by Cameron’s efforts to cut immigration.
“Poland has a major interest in preventing any British EU exit. We are ready to support British demands as regards changes to their treaty obligations and possibly also changes to the European Union’s treaty architecture,” Poland’s new Europe minister Konrad Szymanski told reporters.
But the new right-wing, Eurosceptic government has made clear it wants to defend the interests of the many Poles working in Britain and is concerned about Cameron’s demand that people from other EU states work for four years in Britain before being entitled to same benefits as Britons.
“The only matter of absolute principle is differentiating between people within the EU based on their passport,” said Szymanski.
New Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said she expected Cameron to visit Warsaw soon.
Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Richard Balmforth