Cameron heads into 'make-or-break' summit with EU membership at stake

BRUSSELS -- Prime Minister David Cameron opened Thursday's European Union summit with a vow to be "battling for Britain" as he seeks a deal to fundamentally reform the EU to make sure a U.K.

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referendum on continued British membership can be won.

"It is going to be hard," Cameron said as he got to a two-day summit which could determine the future of the island nation within the 28-nation bloc.

Facing Cameron's demands for less Europe, more London in his national decision-making stood French President Francois Hollande, who insisted there should be no way that Britain can hold up intense EU co-operation in the future.

"I want Britain to stay in the EU. But I hope most of all that Europe can advance, can be stronger," said Hollande. "And that no chief of state or government could stop that. We cannot stop Europe from advancing."

Even if Cameron said he would not stop other EU members taking the road for more unity, he insisted Britain should have ironclad guarantees to stay on the sidelines.

He hinted he would walk away from the summit unless a deal met his demands for more sovereign decision-making for member states.

"If we can get a good deal, I will take that deal but I will not take a deal that doesn't meet what we need," he said. "With goodwill, with hard work, we can get a better deal for Britain."

With as many as four core issues still outstanding, EU President Donald Tusk declared hours before the opening session: "This is a make-or-break summit, I have no doubts."

Tusk said that both sides were still "in the middle of still very difficult and sensitive negotiations," as the summit centre not only started filling with leaders but also legal experts who would have to pour any decision into binding legal texts.

The lingering disputes over anything from the reinforcement of national sovereignty to child benefits belie the fact that none of the other member states wants to see the departure of Britain, an economic and diplomatic giant in a struggling EU.

Britain has been an increasingly half-hearted member over the past decades, staying out of both the common euro currency and the borderless Schengen zone. The perception of increasing meddling of Brussels into affairs many Britons long considered sovereign issues made the time ripe for a referendum.

Still, Cameron is convinced that if the right reforms are approved during the summit, the 28-nation EU will be good for Britain and he will campaign for an in-vote in the referendum, which could come as soon as June.

He has relentlessly consulted with EU leaders over the past months to get close to a deal on reform many would have thought impossible.

But Nigel Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party, said the changes the British leader was seeking were trivial.

"It's not worth a row of beans, whatever he gets," Farage told the AP in Brussels Thursday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that it was in Germany's national interest for Britain to remain in the EU. "I'm going into this debate with the position that we would like to do everything to create the conditions so that Great Britain can remain part of the European Union," she said.

Merkel said Britain is an ally for Germany in promoting competitiveness and free trade, and that Europe needs Britain's foreign and security policy commitment.



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