BRUSSELS (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron says he’s confident the European Union will agree to the reforms he is seeking next year, indicating he may call a referendum on Britain’s membership well before his self-imposed end-of-2017 deadline.
Cameron spoke Friday after a two-day summit at which he outlined Britain’s demands for reform of the 28-nation bloc. His most contentious goal is to reduce immigration from other EU nations by barring migrants from receiving some benefits until they have been in Britain for four years.
Britain claims its schools, hospitals and welfare system have been strained by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Eastern Europe over the last decade. But Cameron’s proposed welfare curb is strongly opposed by some other EU leaders, who see it as violating the fundamental principle of free movement among the bloc’s member states.
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said Cameron’s benefits-limiting proposals “are not acceptable to Poland.”
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“We are open to discussion and compromise,” she said. “But today many well-educated Polish people live in the U.K. and work there and are building the GDP of Great Britain.”
No formal alternative proposal was put forward at the meeting. But Cameron said the summit had brought the EU “a step closer to agreement on the significant and far-reaching reforms that I’ve proposed.”
He said 2016 “will be the year that we achieve something really vital, fundamentally changing the U.K.’s relationship with the EU and finally addressing the concerns of the British people about our membership.
“Then it will be for the British people to decide whether we remain or leave,” added Cameron.
Cameron says he will argue to stay as long as he gets a new deal for Britain, but a strong contingent within his Conservative Party favors leaving the EU.
Many British business leaders, however, warn that having Britain leave the EU would devastate London’s standing as a global financial center.
Cameron’s goal is to get agreement at a Feb. 18-19 summit, which could mean a referendum as early as June.
The mood after Thursday’s late-night summit meeting in Brussels was that a deal might be possible.
“Where there is a will, there is a way,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Optimism is based on the fact that we all want a compromise.”
Lawless reported from London.