A deal at the European Council of 18-19 February is widely seen as essential if Mr Cameron is to stage his promised in/out referendum before the summer.
But speaking to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, yesterday, Mr Cameron declared he was ready to be “patient” in order to get the right result. Securing a deal next month was “achievable [and] doable”, he said. But he added: “We are certainly not there yet.”
Prospects for a swift agreement were played down by French prime minister Manuel Valls, who said the negotiations had “only just begun” and warned that a deal “at any price” would not be acceptable.
However, Mr Cameron issued a plea for businesses and charities not to delay making the case for continued EU membership until after the “negotiations” were complete, in contrast to his Cabinet colleagues.
“I hope that business and NGOs and other organisations won’t hold back,” said the Prime Minister.
“And I would say don’t hold back right now, even though the question isn’t settled. I think that if business backs my reforms, if you want to see the competitive Europe, if you want to see the flexible Europe, if you want to see a Europe where you can be in the eurozone and win or out of the eurozone and win, I would argue ‘Get out there and support those things’.”
Making clear he was ready to delay agreement on a reform package until after February, Mr Cameron said: “I very much hope that we can, with the goodwill that is clearly there, reach an agreement at the February European Council. I would like that.
“If there’s a good deal on the table, I will take it and that’s what will happen. But I do want to be very clear – if there isn’t the right deal, I’m not in a hurry.
“ I can hold my referendum at any time up until the end of 2017, and it is much more important to get this right than to rush it.”
Speaking to an audience of international political and corporate leaders at the annual gathering in the Swiss ski resort, Mr Cameron said his aim was “to secure the future of Britain in a reformed EU”, which he said would be good both for Britain and for Europe.