David Cameron is to meet the European commission president at the start of a week-long charm offensive in which he will visit five European leaders in a bid to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s EU membership.
On Monday night, Jean-Claude Juncker will have a working dinner with the prime minister at his Chequers country residence, which Downing Street says will give Cameron a chance to talk to him at more length about the British people’s concerns over the EU.
A spokesperson said the meeting was unlikely to yield conclusive solutions and that the terms of Britain’s EU membership was not just a topic for consideration by the commission, but also the European council and member states.
On Thursday, a day after the state opening of parliament, Cameron will fly around Europe to meet the Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, in Copenhagen, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, in the Hague, and the French president, François Hollande, in Paris. The following day he will meet the Polish prime minister, Ewa Kopacz, in Warsaw, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin.
The prime minister aims to speak to all other leaders of the 27 EU member states before a European council summit scheduled for 25-26 June.
Cameron and Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg, have not had an easy relationship. Cameron opposed Juncker taking the European commission presidency and after other EU leaders voted overwhelmingly in favour of the appointment in June last year described it as a “serious mistake” and a “backroom deal”.
Despite Cameron’s intervention, Juncker, who is regarded as being on the political left of the European centre-right mainstream, has said he would be willing to discuss minor treaty change, though he has ruled out amendments to the right to the freedom of movement, a fundamental EU principle.
The promise of an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU before the end of 2017 was a key element of the Conservative party’s general election manifesto. The prime minister has promised to secure a “better deal” for the UK in the EU and to then campaign for Britain’s continued membership.
Cameron kicked off his timetable for renegotiation at the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga on Friday, downplaying expectations that there would be a quick deal but promising to raise the issue at every European summit until a deal is done.
“There will be ups and downs – you’ll hear one day this is possible, the next day something else is impossible,” he said. “But one thing throughout all of this will be constant and that is my determination to deliver for the British people a reform of the European Union so they get a proper choice in that referendum we hold: an in/out referendum before the end of 2017.”
The EU referendum bill, which will be announced after the Queen’s speech on Wednesday, will make clear that the franchise – the people eligible to vote – will be the same as in general elections, that is adults from the age of 18, Irish and Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK, and British citizens who have lived abroad for less than 15 years.
UK nationals who have been resident overseas for 15 years or more will not be eligible to vote, despite the fact that extending voting rights to all expats was a Conservative party manifesto pledge.
Speaking in September last year, the Conservative party chairman, Grant Shapps said: “If the Conservative party wins the next general election, we will remove this cap [on the number of years a person can live abroad before losing voting rights] and extend it to a full right as a British citizen to vote in British elections for life.”
The Labour party said on Sunday it planned to join forces with the SNP to exploit the government’s relative weakness in the Commons and the Lords in an attempt to ensure 16- and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote in the referendum.
Under government plans, French-born Christian Allard, a Scottish National party MSP for North East Scotland, would not be able to vote in the referendum, something he described as a “democratic disgrace”.
Humza Yousaf, SNP MSP and minister for Europe and international development, pointed out that EU citizens could vote in Scottish parliamentary elections and also had a vote in the independence referendum held last September. “That same right should be extended to all elections and referenda if we are to be a truly inclusive nation, starting with the proposed in/out EU referendum,” he said.
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Monday 25th May 2015 16.06 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010