DAVID Cameron has held talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker as he bids to renegotiate the UK’s relations with the EU.
The Prime Minister welcomed the man he last year sought to block from the top Brussels job to his country residence Chequers, at the start of a busy week of initial negotiations with leaders across the continent.
Mr Cameron has promised to put whatever reform deal he can secure to the public in an in/out referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the 28- nation bloc by the end of 2017.
Legislation paving the way for the national vote will be published on Thursday. It will confirm that most EU citizens living in the UK will be denied a vote and that the franchise will not be extended to include 16 and 17-year-olds.
A government source said the meeting between the two would be a chance for Mr Cameron to make the case for renegotiation.
Mr Juncker has said he hopes that a fair deal can be struck for the UK but has ruled out the sort of treaty change that some believe necessary to deal with concerns over issues such as immigration.
During their meeting, Mr Cameron and Mr Juncker debated some of the issues the UK is trying to change in Europe, including freedom of movement and benefits citizens can claim when they move to another country. Greeting Mr Juncker at the rural Buckinghamshire retreat, Mr Cameron told him they were meeting in the room reputedly used by Winston Churchill to write some of his most famous wartime speeches. He said: “Think of ‘we’ll fight them on the beaches’.”
It is believed to be the first time a European Commission president has been hosted at Chequers and represents a chance for Mr Cameron to build bridges with Mr Juncker, less than a year after damning the election of the former Luxembourg premier as a “serious mistake”.
On Thursday, Mr Cameron will fly to Denmark for a working breakfast with his counterpart Helle Thorning-Schmidt, going on to the Netherlands to meet Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, before ending the day with talks over dinner at the Elysee Palace with French president Francois Hollande.
On Friday, the Prime Minister will travel to Warsaw for discussions with prime minister Ewa Kopacz in Warsaw before concluding the trip in Berlin where he will hold talks with chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Prime Minister hopes to talk to all other 27 leaders of EU member states individually before the European Council summit at the end of next month.
A source said: “It is an opportunity for the PM to underline why he is doing this and the views of Britain about the EU, the case for renegotiation and not sticking with the status quo.”
The talks are expected to touch on the broad areas where the Prime Minister thinks change is needed and “there will be some discussions about how we taken them forward”, the source said.