PARIS – British Prime Minister David Cameron met with French President Francois Hollande on Monday evening for talks aimed at convincing Paris to grant London concessions ahead of a contentious referendum on whether the U.K. should leave the EU — a prospect known as the “Brexit.”
The meeting at the Elysee Palace comes as the European Commission’s president said that this week’s summit of EU leaders to thrash out a deal that would make it easier for Britain to remain within the 28-nation bloc will turn into a fight over social welfare issues.
A generous social welfare system has long been at the heart of society in continental Europe and non-discrimination among EU citizens a cornerstone of the union. Hence, the insistence of Cameron to deny some of those welfare rights to EU newcomers in Britain for up to four years has been a focal point of criticism.
“The social welfare system is, of course, at stake,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on the eve of a preparatory meeting with Cameron in Brussels.
“We have to approach this question of the social welfare system with a maximum of prudence,” he said. “This is concerning Britain but it is also concerning the other member states.”
European Council President Donald Tusk visited Romania on Monday and insisted “we cannot and will not compromise on the fundamental freedoms and values. It is in this spirit that I drafted my proposal for a new settlement for the U.K. in the EU.”
Juncker called the proposals that will be discussed at the summit as of Thursday “a fair deal for Britain and this is a fair deal for the 27 other member states.”
Cameron also met with Germany’s Angela Merkel on Friday.
The British leader must hold a referendum by the end of next year. If a deal is clinched at the summit that starts Thursday, he might call a vote as soon as June.
Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos was in Brussels to discuss the issue, saying his country wants Britain to remain in the EU.
Juncker “knows, and I have said it several times, that Romania wants to find a solution for Great Britain to remain in the EU,” Agerpres news agency quoted Ciolos as saying.
Romania joined the EU in 2007, and Cameron visited the country in December to discuss plans to cut some welfare benefits as part of efforts to renegotiate the Britain’s relationship with the EU.
Raf Casert reported from Brussels.