THE Prime Minister is set to significantly intensify his EU membership renegotiation efforts after his first attempt came to nothing.
At summit talks in the Latvian capital Riga, David Cameron admitted he faces a difficult task renegotiating Britain’s relationship with Brussels, saying it will take “patience and tenacity”.
Downing Street last night revealed Mr Cameron will meet with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at Chequers next week before travelling to Paris for a meeting with Francois Hollande, the French president, and to Berlin for a meeting with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.
At the first post-election summit talks in the Latvian capital Riga, the Prime Minister insisted the sooner the process gets under way “the better” but said today’s discussions had “scratched the surface”.
Mr Cameron is committed to holding an in out referendum on EU membership in 2017, but will first seek to renegotiate British membership on issues such as immigration and human rights.
British officials believe Mr Cameron’s return to No 10 with a clear mandate for re-negotiation will force EU leaders to face up to the need to finally address the issue seriously.
After a series of meetings in the margins with EU counterparts, the Premier told reporters he would not set out deadlines for securing reforms and will not “negotiate in public”.
He said: “We need to address the concerns of the British people. They are not happy with the status quo. And neither am I.
“There’s the concern that we are being driven towards an ever closer union. That may be what some others want but that is not for us.
“There’s the unnecessary and burdensome EU rules holding our businesses back and stopping them from seizing the enormous potential of the single market.
“And there’s the concern - that I fully share - about the huge increase in people migrating to the UK from Europe and fear that we can do nothing to address this.
“But I believe we can find a way through all these problems. I believe that we can transform our relationship with Europe for the better.
“And that is what I have now embarked upon.”
Mr Cameron again refused to rule out campaigning for Britain to leave the EU if his renegotiation efforts fail.
Mr Cameron said: “I’m confident, I’ve set out a series of changes which I think address the main concerns which the British people have, that I have about Europe and the way it works and I’m confident of getting those changes.
“I’ve tried to aim at things that are deliverable and doable rather than things that are impossible.
“But I’ve always said that if I don’t get what I think I need, I rule nothing out.”
The Prime Minister also said the Government had a clear policy which means all ministers are signed up to the reform efforts and a referendum based on a successful outcome.
Asked whether he would allow ministers to campaign for an exit if he was campaigning for Britain to stay in, Mr Cameron said: “We have a very clear Government policy, which is the whole Government is behind the process of a renegotiation and a referendum based on the fact that we can have a successful outcome and that is what everyone has signed up to and I’m confident of delivering.”
Mr Cameron also said he was keen to get on with the renegotiation but declined to set deadlines for when it would be complete, beyond stating that the referendum must take place before the end of 2017.
He said: “I’ve set a deadline at the end of 2017. The referendum has to take place by then, whatever happens.”