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Merkel urges Britain to stay in EU but cool on reform

Agence France-Presse

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Merkel said in her speech to parliament that Britain and Germany shared the goal of a 'strong and competitive" EU that was a "model for other regions of the world'

TALKING POINTS. British Prime Minister David Cameron (R) gestures to German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) at a joint news conference at No. 10 Downing Street, in London, UK, 27 February 2014. Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

LONDON, United Kingdom – German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Britain Thursday, February 27, to stay in the EU but played down David Cameron’s hopes that her visit to London would bring major reforms.

The British premier rolled out the red carpet in his bid to woo fellow conservative Merkel, who gave a speech to both houses of parliament before taking tea with the queen.

But Europe’s most powerful politician was cool on Cameron’s desire to change the EU’s treaties ahead of a planned referendum on British membership of the bloc in 2017.

Merkel said in her speech to parliament that Britain and Germany shared the goal of a “strong and competitive” EU that was a “model for other regions of the world.”

“In order to maintain this goal we need a strong United Kingdom with a strong voice inside the European Union,” she said in English, after delivering most of the address in German.

However she admitted Cameron might be disappointed by her speech to members of the House of Commons and House of the Lords, the first by a German leader since president Richard von Weizsaecker’s address in 1986.

“I have heard some expect my speech to pave the way for a fundamental reform of European architecture which will satisfy all kinds of alleged or actual British wishes. I am afraid they are in for a disappointment,” she said.

Merkel appeared to open the door to reform a little wider in a press conference after she and Cameron held a lunch meeting at the prime minister’s Downing Street residence.

Cameron said they discussed ways of cutting “excessive interference and meddling” by Brussels and of protecting member states like Britain that do not use the euro.

“Angela and I both want to see change in Europe and we both believe change is possible,” he said.

Merkel offered some support for his concerns over EU migrants claiming social benefits, saying that if new arrivals got as much as long-term citizens there would be an “onslaught”.

She added that while achieving consensus on reforms was “not a piece of cake”, she was confident it could be done.

“If one wants Britain to remain in the European Union which is what I want, if one at the same time wants a competitive union that generates growth, one can find common solutions,” she said.

She then headed off to have tea at Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth II.

Russia warned over Ukraine

Cameron hopes to win over voters in Britain’s in-out referendum by securing reforms that would dilute Europe’s influence over domestic policy.

He has said the vote will be in late 2017, provided he is re-elected in 2015, but he is finding support for his changes from fellow EU nations hard to come by.

Merkel is generally sympathetic towards Cameron’s views and the pair have a good personal relationship, reported to have been bolstered during a Cameron family visit to her country home last year.

But Douglas Alexander, foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Labour party, said Cameron had failed to win the concessions he needed.

“The gap between what Chancellor Merkel was offering and what his eurosceptic backbenchers are demanding remains as wide as ever,” Alexander said.

In her address to parliament, Merkel followed in the footsteps of US President Barack Obama and French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The warm reception she received contrasted with that accorded to French President Francois Hollande, who had a brief summit at a chilly airfield and a pub lunch with Cameron last month.

The British and German heads of government also put on a united front on the crisis in Ukraine.

Cameron warned Russia to respect its commitment to the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine, as tensions rose on the crisis-hit country’s majority-Russian Crimea peninsula.

For her part, Merkel said she believed Russia “is of the same view as we are on this matter, and this territorial integrity needs to be preserved”.

She also expressed hope that Moscow would support the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in helping the interim Ukrainian government to manage its battered finances. –

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