British PM sets out priorities for EU reform

LONDON - Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday outlined the EU reforms he thinks are needed to stop Britain being "sucked into a United States of Europe", ahead of a planned referendum on membership in 2017.

The Conservative leader said he would campaign for Britain to stay in the European Union so long as he can secure changes to reduce the bloc's influence in British affairs.

In an article in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Cameron outlined for the first time his seven priorities, ranging from cutting back red tape to limiting the rights of new EU citizens to work in Britain.

He warned the changes would require "time and patience", an appeal to eurosceptic members of his party who are demanding an even tougher approach to Europe.

"This is an ambitious agenda for a new European Union. Delivering it will take time and patience, as well as strong relationships with our key allies and goodwill - not shouting from the sidelines," the prime minister wrote.

"It will require a negotiation with our European partners. Some changes will best be achieved by alterations to the European treaties. Others can be achieved by different means."

He stressed the reforms were achievable, despite the apparent lack of enthusiasm from Britain's EU allies to renegotiating the 28-nation bloc's complex treaties.

During recent visits to London, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was cool on Cameron's reform agenda and French President Francois Hollande said outright that treaty change was "not a priority".

Outlining his priorities, Cameron said Brussels should not always be seeking to take power from national governments, and said national parliaments should be able to work together to block unwanted EU legislation.

He said businesses should be freed from EU red tape, and British police and the courts should be able to operate without "unnecessary interference" from European institutions.

Cameron repeated his call for restrictions on the rights of EU migrants to claim welfare outside their home countries, and of citizens of new, poorer EU member states to work in places such as Britain.

Finally, he said he wanted to free Britain from any obligation towards an ever closer union of EU nations.

"People are worried that Britain is being sucked into a United States of Europe. That may be what some others want, but it is not for us," Cameron wrote.

The referendum will only take place if Cameron is re-elected next year, after the leaders of the other two main parties at Westminster refused to back his pledge.

Cameron made the promise last year under pressure from Tory eurosceptics and the anti-EU, anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP), which is tipped to come first in Britain in elections for the European Parliament in May.