Germany's Merkel pledges to be 'constructive' over Britain's EU reform bid



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BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel sounded a conciliatory note Friday on Britain's efforts to renegotiate its relationship with the European Union, as Prime Minister David Cameron wrapped up a two-day four country trip to press his case for concessions.

Merkel, who is certain to play a central role in the negotiations, described her talks with Cameron as "constructive and friendly," and said they had begun talking about specifics and what could be done to accommodate Britain's wishes.

"Where there's a will, there's a way," she said. "And we are going to pursue matters on these lines."

Cameron's newly elected Conservative government has promised to hold a referendum by the end of 2017 on whether Britain should remain within the EU. Ahead of that vote, he's looking to get concessions on the terms of Britain's membership.

Merkel said it was Germany's "clear hope the British people will decide to see Britain remain in the European Union."

Cameron's bid to lead profound changes in the bloc is a key test for his leadership in the next five years.

The stakes are high: If he doesn't secure reforms that Britons are happy with, Britain could vote to leave the EU. It's not yet clear how much support he could secure among his European counterparts. Some EU leaders have acknowledged they share some of Cameron's concerns, but have insisted that allowing people to travel and work freely across the EU's 28 nations remains a cornerstone of their policies.

Cameron sounded optimistic following his talks with Merkel, saying the meeting "was an opportunity to really get down to business and work through each issue."

He said there's "no magic big solution" but said he was confident one could be worked out.

Merkel indicated that it would even be in Germany's interest to see some changes made, and said there was already a de facto "two-speed Europe" with some countries opting out of using the Euro currency and some from the Schengen agreement that ended border controls between member states. Britain has opted out of both.

"We have agreed to cooperate on this process that the United Kingdom wishes to pursue," Merkel said, adding that Germany would negotiate in a "supportive and constructive way."

She said discussions had begun over content and whether a treaty change would be necessary — something she said "you cannot completely rule out."

In Paris on Thursday, Cameron urged the bloc's 27 other members to be "flexible" and "imaginative" about the EU's future — saying that his priority is "to make it more competitive and to address the concerns of the British people about our membership."

One of Cameron's goals is to win concessions to curb welfare benefits to migrants from the EU.

Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz, who met Cameron earlier Friday in Warsaw, expressed strong opposition to any change that could lead to discrimination against Poles or other EU citizens working legally in Britain. Hundreds of thousands of Poles have settled in Britain since Poland joined the EU in 2004.

"By doing so she defended one of the core principles underlying the single market in the European Union," Kopacz's office said.

Friday's talks come a day after he met French President Francois Hollande and Dutch Premier Mark Rutte.


Vanessa Gera in Warsaw and Sylvia Hui in London contributed to this report

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