DAVID Cameron told European Union president Jean-Claude Juncker that the EU “needs to change” to meet UK voters’ concerns as he stepped up pre-referendum efforts to secure a reformed relationship with Brussels.
The Prime Minister, who less than a year ago condemned the election of the ex-Luxembourg president as a “serious mistake”, welcomed him to official country residence Chequers to discuss potential changes over dinner.
Mr Cameron has promised to give the country a straight yes/no choice over continued membership of the 28-nation bloc by the end of 2017.
Legislation paving the way for the referendum will be published on Thursday, and 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.
At the same time, the PM will embark on a whistle-stop tour of European capitals as he seeks to bolster pro-reform alliances with other leaders before the next major summit in June, visiting Denmark, the Netherlands and France on Thursday, and Poland and Germany on Friday.
In what may be a blow to his hopes, it was reported by Le Monde that France and Germany were preparing to unveil a deal at that gathering that would allow further integration of eurozone countries without needing to reopen the EU’s ruling treaties.
Mr Juncker reiterated that he wanted to find a fair deal for the UK and would seek to help. They talked through the issue at some length in the spirit of finding solutions to these problemsNumber 10 spokesman
Mr Cameron has conceded that securing a deal will take “patience and tenacity”.
“The Prime Minister underlined that the British people are not happy with the status quo and believe that the EU needs to change in order to better address their concerns,” a Number 10 spokeswoman said.
“Mr Juncker reiterated that he wanted to find a fair deal for the UK and would seek to help. They talked through the issue at some length in the spirit of finding solutions to these problems.
“They agreed that more discussion would be needed, including with other leaders, on the best way forward.”
Talks also touched on the Greek economic situation, Ukraine and relations with Russia, including the extension of sanctions.
As he sought to build bridges with the Brussels chief, who could play a pivotal role in the process, Mr Cameron gave Mr Juncker a tour of the historic Buckinghamshire retreat and showed him Winston Churchill’s brandy glass.
“Think of ‘we’ll fight them on the beaches’,” he told Mr Juncker of the room where the wartime leader was said to have composed some of his most famous speeches, before they sat down for a dinner of pork belly, bacon and seasonal vegetables.
The announcement that the referendum would be run using the same franchise as for general elections provoked a mixed response.
The exclusion from the vote of most UK-resident EU citizens was broadly welcomed. Eurosceptics had claimed that as many as 1.5 million could have taken part had it been run under rules for local elections, in which citizens of other member states can participate.
French-born SNP MSP for North East Scotland Christian Allard, who will be ineligible, said however that it was a “democratic disgrace”.
There was wider condemnation of the failure to follow Scotland’s much-applauded independence referendum move to allow votes at 16.
Labour said it was a “matter of principle” that those old enough to pay tax, marry and join the armed forces should not be voiceless in such an important national decision and said it would table an amendment to extend the franchise.
Questions were also raised over why expatriates who have lived abroad for more than 15 years would not be given a say, despite the Conservative manifesto promising to axe the time limit in favour of “votes for life”.
Le Monde said it had seen a joint document sent by German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande to Mr Juncker on Saturday ahead of the June summit.
It suggests that a move towards deepening integration between the countries using the single currency can be achieved within the constraints of the existing treaties, reducing the prospect of using treaty change to repatriate powers to London.
Mr Juncker has made clear his opposition to reopening the treaties.