EU leaders want UK in union, but not treaty change

LONDON (AFP) - European leaders on Wednesday stressed the importance of keeping Britain in the European Union (EU), but said they opposed treaty changes demanded by Prime Minister David Cameron.

"Britain is an essential part of the EU," Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said during a conference in Dublin marking the beginning of his country's six-month presidency of the bloc.

"Great Britain has great value and is a very important member of the EU," added EU President Herman Van Rompuy.

The two leaders highlighted the importance of the union for British businesses, saying that it was essential for them that Britain remained a full and active member.

A majority of Britons favour severing all ties with the union, according to polls, and Mr Cameron is expected to deliver a speech within the next few days spelling out his views on the country's relationship with Brussels.

He insisted last year that he supported Britain's membership, but that he wanted to negotiate a "new agreement", which would allow it to opt out of certain directives.

Mr Kenny and Mr Van Rompuy both repeated their opposition to any treaty changes.

"I don't see a reopening of the treaties, I don't see an issue in treaty change for any individual countries," said the Irish prime minister.

Irish Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore stressed that the top concern of European citizens, "whether from Liverpool or Limerick", was unemployment.

Mr Van Rompuy reiterated that it would be possible to change the treaties after the 2014 European elections, but added that he strongly supported deeper EU integration as opposed to an "a la carte" union.

He pointed out that there was already scope for increasing EU partnership.

"We don't need, at this stage, a treaty change," he said. "We can deliver for a deeper EU within the treaties."

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