[BRUSSELS] David Cameron will step up his efforts to renegotiate Britain's relationship with Europe on Thursday, with some business leaders urging him to keep their country in.
The prime minister arrives in Brussels for a European Union summit fresh from talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel the day before. With the bloc also trying to reach a financial settlement with Greece, Cameron will outline his proposals over a working dinner.
"This is my first European Council since the election and it's the first EU summit where renegotiation of the UK's relationship with the EU is formally on the agenda," Mr Cameron said in an e-mailed statement. "This presents an opportunity to get the negotiation under way and to kick off a process to work through the substance and to find solutions." Mr Cameron has promised to win better terms and call a referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU by the end of 2017. A group of 26 business leaders including billionaire Richard Branson and WPP Plc chief Martin Sorrell wrote to the Times newspaper stating it was "overwhelmingly in Britain's interest to remain in the EU," and urging Mr Cameron to negotiate from within the union rather than by threatening to leave.
After a series of one-on-one meetings on Thursday morning, Mr Cameron will have spoken to almost all of his counterparts since his re-election on May 7.
The UK prime minister has not presented a formal list of his demands but has said he wants to protect British sovereignty and ensure fair treatment for countries outside the euro area while preserving the single market and imposing controls on immigration within the EU. He is also seeking to ensure the bloc is an engine for growth by reducing regulation.
"Not having a formal list is both a get-out clause and strengthens your negotiating position," Anand Menon, professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King's College London, said in a telephone interview. "Whatever Cameron gets, he's going to come back and say he's achieved what he wanted." Having held political discussions with his counterparts to assess what can be achieved in the renegotiation, Mr Cameron is seeking to maintain momentum this week and agree to detailed negotiations between officials over the substance of the UK's proposals.
"It will take us another step closer to addressing the concerns that the British people have about the EU," Mr Cameron said. "Closer to changing the status quo for the better and then giving the British people a say on whether the UK should stay in or leave the EU."
British diplomat Jonathan Faull, who has worked for the European Commission since 1978, has been appointed to lead a task force with responsibility for "strategic issues related to the UK referendum," the commission said on its website. Mr Faull will report directly to the commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker.
To win a referendum, which may be called as soon as October 2016, Mr Cameron might need to convince voters that he has achieved real change, King's College's Menon said.
"Most people in this country aren't very aware of the technical details of these negotiations and will be swayed by the prime minister coming back from Brussels and saying 'we've won,'" Mr Menon said. "A lot of it is style as much as substance and it will be better for Cameron if it looks like there's been a fight."