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David Cameron to discuss EU reform with French president Hollande

David Cameron is to welcome Francois Hollande to Chequers as he steps up his diplomatic efforts to secure support for Britain's EU membership renegotiation.

The Prime Minister's working dinner with the French president follows talks with his Danish counterpart, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, in which the pair agreed to examine how to give the 28 member states greater control over access to benefits.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond will also press the UK's case for reform in Brussels and Paris this week during efforts to push the issue back up the agenda following a summer dominated by the migration crisis engulfing Europe.

The Government has pledged an in/out referendum will take place before the end of 2017.

Elsewhere, Home Secretary Theresa May is to attend an extraordinary meeting of the EU's Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels to discuss the migrant crisis.

The plight of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war will also be raised when the PM meets Mr Hollande ahead of tomorrow's emergency EU summit being held to consider the issue, Downing Street said.

But Mr Cameron's official spokeswoman said that he also wanted to raise the issue of the UK's EU renegotiation with Mr Hollande.

"We thought this would be a good opportunity to have some further discussions on EU reform," she said.

The French have been among the countries most sceptical about Mr Cameron's demands for change in Brussels.

The Prime Minister's attempts to win support have not been helped by his refusal to sign up to a Franco-German plan for a quota system to distribute tens of thousands of refugees currently in the EU among the member states.

Mr Cameron has consistently argued it is better to provide support for the refugees in the region rather than encouraging them to make the dangerous sea crossing to Europe by offering the prospect of resettlement in the EU.

While Britain has said that it will resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees over the next five years, it will take them direct from the refugee camps bordering Syria rather than from among those who have already made it to Europe.

Mr Cameron's spokeswoman said that he would use tomorrow's summit to urge EU leaders to do more in the region - including tackling the people-smuggling gangs behind much of the influx.

She said that the UK also believed that there needed to be a proper process for assessing claims for asylum by migrants, with those who were not entitled to refugee status being returned to their country of origin.

"Where those claims are not accepted and agreed, we do think the European countries need to be looking at what is the process of returns and removing those people," she said.

Mr Cameron has also spoken to German chancellor Angela Merkel about the summit, with a No 10 spokeswoman saying: "They both agreed that Wednesday's summit should be an opportunity for the EU to consider its broader response to the crisis, particularly what more it can do to enable Syria's neighbours to cope with the influx of refugees; how it can support a political process in Syria; and what further assistance can be provided to strengthen Europe's external borders."


From Belfast Telegraph