[LONDON] France is willing to help seek reform of the European Union before Britain holds a referendum on whether to stay in the bloc but remains unsure about some key British proposals, French economy minister Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday.
Britain's Conservative government has promised a vote on EU membership before the end of 2017. Prime Minister David Cameron says he will join the campaign to stay in if he can renegotiate the relationship. "My willingness is to help to find an agreement and win the referendum, but my priority today is to understand much more clearly the British requirements in order to avoid any misunderstanding," Mr Macron told reporters in London.
Mr Macron met Mr Cameron and finance minister George Osborne and said he shared their ideas about cutting back on red tape and regulation.
But he said he did not have a clear view on what Britain wanted to change in the relationship between EU countries in the euro zone and those outside it.
Speaking at the London School of Economics later on Thursday, Mr Macron said a Brexit would be "the defeat of solidarity." He said Europe must move towards a better-integrated single market. "I'm for a sort of a federalism at the euro zone level,"he said. "At the EU level it's still too complicated but ... we can be much more ambitious than we are today."
Mr Osborne has said Britain, as a non-euro zone country, must ensure it can protect its interests, notably its financial services industry.
Mr Macron told reporters Britain should consider being part of Europe's banking union. "If the point is we want be part of the sort of EU market for financial services but be completely ring-fenced from the banking union, it's fine but I think that sometimes in life you have a sort of reality principle which just doesn't allow you to have everything you want," he said.
Sources close to Mr Macron have said France wanted to avoid cries of victory from Cameron if he managed to extract enough concessions from his EU partners, in case that pushed other EU countries to present their own lists of demands.
Mr Macron, in his meeting with reporters in London on Thursday, cited Europe's disjointed approach to dealing with the refugee crisis as an example of how countries acting on their own agendas risked undermining the EU. "An a la carte Europe is not feasible because it just means progressively you kill the European idea and the functioning of Europe," he said.