• Tusk to hold EU talks on ‘very fragile’ Brexit deal

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    BRUSSELS: EU president Donald Tusk said on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) he had cleared his schedule to hold urgent meetings with leaders including Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande to push for a deal to keep Britain in the bloc at a summit next week.

    The former Polish premier set out his proposals for a deal with British Prime Minister David Cameron last week on EU reforms, but there is opposition to several parts in a number of EU countries.

    “I am confident that this is a balanced and solid proposal and I hope to finalize it next week in the European Council. However, let me be clear, this is a very fragile political process,” Tusk told reporters at the European Parliament.

    “Therefore I have decided to cancel all my obligations and will hold a number of meetings with EU leaders and with the European Parliament in order to help reach an agreement,” he added.

    “Next week I will visit several capitals to meet EU leaders and discuss my proposal.”

    Tusk said he would meet German Chancellor Merkel, French President Hollande, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, as well as the President of Romania and the Czech Prime Minister, who currently heads the “Visegrad Group’ of eastern European states.

    He will also meet the European Parliament head Martin Schulz, whose institution, the only directly-elected body in the EU, would have to approve many of the key features of the British deal.

    “The aim of my consultations it to secure a broad political support for my proposal,” he said.

    ‘Lot of dangers’

    Tusk would meet Michel in Brussels on Friday and was expected to travel to Paris, Berlin, Prague and Bucharest on Monday and Tuesday next week while the date of the trip to Athens was yet to be confirmed, European sources told Agence France-Presse.

    European diplomats will hold a second set of talks in Brussels on Thursday in a further bid to iron out the problems.

    Cameron is hoping for a deal at the summit on February 18-19 so he can hold a referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU or leave—a so-called Brexit—in June.

    But several of Tusk’s proposals have proved controversial in other European capitals where Britain’s demands are viewed as a distraction from bigger problems like the migration crisis and eurozone debt.

    Eastern European states like the Visegrad Group—Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia—have raised questions about a plan to allow Britain to limit welfare benefits for new EU migrants working in Britain for up to four years, EU sources.

    They say it could discriminate against the hundreds of thousands of their nationals working in Britain.

    Meanwhile, there are fears Germany or other richer northern European states could try to take similar benefit measures, despite careful wording in Tusk’s proposal meaning the perk could effectively only apply to Britain, and that would create even wider opposition, the sources said.

    France and other countries have also raised objections against a plan to give protections to Britain and other countries that do not use the euro, saying that the “euro-outs” cannot be given any veto over eurozone policies.

    Several countries are also concerned about plans to change the EU’s treaties to reflect the British demands, with some saying it should be enough that a summit agreement is made legally binding, the sources said.

    “There are a lot of dangers,” the European source said.

    AFP

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