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Britain's Cameron to make EU speech in Netherlands on Friday

15 January 2013, 00:42 CET
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(LONDON) - British Prime Minister David Cameron will give a long-awaited speech on his country's future relationship with the European Union in the Netherlands on Friday, his Downing Street office said.

The speech had previously been expected on January 22, but reports suggested it was brought forward because it would have clashed with the 50th anniversary of France and Germany's post-war reconciliation on that day.

"The prime minister is to make his speech on the future of the EU and the UK's relationship with it, in the Netherlands, on Friday 18 January," a Downing Street spokesman told AFP on Monday.

Cameron would meet Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte for talks during his visit but Rutte is not expected to attend the speech, Downing Street said. The audience would instead consist of business people and diplomats, his office added.

In the speech, Cameron is widely expected to demand the repatriation of certain powers from the European Union and to propose a referendum on his plans for a new relationship with Brussels, due to be held in 2018 according to a report in Tuesday's Times.

Cameron's spokesman later told reporters: "The prime minister wants to set out his views on the future of the European Union, how it needs to develop and how Britain's relationship with it needs to develop.

"I think giving the speech in a founding member of the European Union, a country that has -- not dissimilar to the UK -- a strong global-trading, outward-looking history, is entirely appropriate.

"He sees it as important to set out his view about it being in the British national interest to remain in the EU but with a changed relationship."

Cameron spoke by telephone at the weekend to Rutte and to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, having tried to win their support in recent months for his pro-austerity, anti-federalist position on Europe.

The British premier is under growing pressure at home from the increasingly eurosceptic right wing of his Conservative party, and from opinion polls suggesting growing hostility to the EU in Britain.

But the United States, Germany and other allies have meanwhile been urging him to avoid a so-called "Brexit" or British exit from the EU, fearing that it could damage the 27-member bloc.

Months of uncertainty over the timing of his announcement on the EU -- dubbed simply "The Speech" in the British press -- have fuelled claims that Cameron was wavering over his policies.

The speech, which will take place in Amsterdam according to British press reports, was originally expected just before Christmas 2012, then Cameron said it would be in mid-January.

Finally, there were widespread reports it would take place on January 22, before it emerged that the date clashed with the deeply symbolic reconciliation anniversary between EU big guns France and Germany. With Cameron already short of friends in Brussels, Downing Street appears to have changed again.

Cameron said earlier on Monday that the speech was "largely finished and ready to go."

He denied claims -- made by a German lawmaker and ally of Merkel who visited London this week -- that Britain was trying to "blackmail" its European partners.

"I'm not blackmailing anybody," Cameron told BBC radio.

"Britain, just like every other European country, has a perfect right to say we are members of this club, we are prominent members, we pay a large bill for being a member of this club.

"We are perfectly entitled to argue that it needs to change."

Cameron stressed that he still supported Britain's membership of the EU and said that a straight in-out referendum asking whether Britons wanted to remain in the bloc as things stand was a "false choice".

"Would Britain collapse if we left the European Union? No, of course not. We could choose a different path. The question is, what is in our national interest," he said.

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