DAVID Cameron has kicked off a two-day whistlestop tour of European capitals to bolster support for his EU reform plans.
The Prime Minister met Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte today as he began the work of securing sufficient changes to the relationship with Brussels to convince voters to keep the country in the European Union.
His first meeting came as Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said only “substantial” reforms would allow the government to win the referendum promised by the end of 2017 in the face of eurosceptic opposition.
Mr Cameron will head to Paris for discussions with President Francois Hollande, before travelling to Warsaw for talks today with Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz and then Berlin to see Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose backing is crucial to success.
Arriving for a working lunch in The Hague, Mr Cameron said the UK and the Netherlands were “old friends and like-minded allies”.
He told his host: “I am looking forward to discussing many issues but obviously we will be talking about European reform and the need to focus on flexibility, the need to focus on growth and jobs, the need to make sure we complete the single market, the need to make sure that, as you have put it, ‘Europe where necessary but nation states where possible’.
We expect our European Union partners to engage with us in delivering a package that will enable the British people to decide that Britain’s future is best delivered inside the European UnionPhilip Hammond
“We have worked together on making sure that the European budget is under control, we have worked together on trade deals with other parts of the world,
we have worked together on strong, pro-market, pro-enterprise agenda.
“So we will discuss all that and my plans for European reform.”
Mr Hammond said he remained confident that a deal was possible but he acknowledged that the government faced some difficult negotiations with EU partners in the months ahead.
“We are at the very beginning of a process here. We have a very clear set of requirements,” he said. “The Prime Minister is very clear in dealing with European counterparts that 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.
“We expect our European Union partners to engage with us in delivering a package that will enable the British people to decide that Britain’s future is best delivered inside the European Union.
“We expect that some of our partners will adopt a hard line at the start of the negotiations – that’s how negotiation works – but we are very confident that, over the course of the summer and perhaps onwards through the winter, we will be able to negotiate a substantial package of reform which will address the concerns that the British people have.”
Under the provisions of the EU Referendum Bill, tabled in Parliament today, the referendum – which will determine whether the UK remains a member of the EU – has to be held before the end of 2017.
Mr Hammond confirmed the government had not ruled out the possibility it could take place next year, but sought to play down the prospects of an early vote.