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Merkel in Britain for tough budget talks with Cameron

08 november 2012, 15:25
0
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron held talks over the EU's hotly contested budget in London on Wednesday with both agreeing that the bloc needed to heed public opinion, AFP reports.

The two leaders shook hands and posed briefly for photographers by the door of 10 Downing Street, the British premier's official residence, before heading inside for a working dinner.

The EU budget negotiation summit later this month was the focus of the talks, according to a statement released by Downing Street following the dinner.

The pair "agreed on the importance of the EU demonstrating that it responds to public opinion, especially in difficult economic times," said a Downing Street spokesman.

Cameron is pushing for a freeze in the trillion-euro 2014-2020 budget, having threatened to veto any rise in spending at a summit in Brussels at the end of the month.

"I believe our membership of the European Union is important and that is the basis on which we will be having our discussions tonight," Cameron said in a pre-talk press conference.

"We are both believers that European countries have to live within their means, as does the European Union."

The British premier, who returned from a trip to the Middle East earlier on Wednesday, said he would make a "very robust and strong argument" for a deal in his country's interests.

"I have always wanted at best a cut, at worst a freeze," he said ahead of the meeting. "I feel I am in there fighting for Europe's taxpayers, particularly British taxpayers."

Cameron said Merkel was one of a group of European leaders who signed a letter in 2010 backing a freeze, adding that the arguments for doing so were even more compelling now.

Merkel admitted leaders were under pressure to find a deal which "will stand up in the court of public opinion back home.

"We will not complete negotiations tonight but we want to do this in the spirit of partnership and friendship in order to focus our interests," she said.

Germany's push for ever-greater EU unification to combat the eurozone debt crisis irks many Britons, who resent what they see as an increasingly intrusive -- and costly -- role taken by Brussels in national life.

The issue is putting Cameron under pressure too.

He suffered a humiliating defeat in a non-binding parliamentary vote last week calling for a cut in European Union spending, while eurosceptics in his Conservative Party are pushing for a referendum on EU membership.

But in a speech to European lawmakers in Brussels earlier Wednesday, Merkel said she wanted a strong Britain in Europe.

She reacted forcefully to a call by a leading British eurosceptic European lawmaker, Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party, for an "amicable divorce" between London and Brussels.

"I want to have a strong UK in the EU, let me make that absolutely clear," the German chancellor said.

"I cannot imagine that the UK would not be part of Europe," Merkel said, recalling Britain's role in ending Nazi rule in Germany in 1945. "I think it is also good for the UK to be in Europe."

The pair also discussed financial stability in the eurozone and the possibility of creating a Eurozone banking union ahead of the December European Council, according to the spokesman.

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