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May 28, 8:06 AM EDT

UK leader travels to 4 EU states to press case for reform


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AP Photo/Alastair Grant

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- Prime Minister David Cameron met his Dutch counterpart on Thursday as he began a whirlwind visit to four European capitals, pressing his case that Britain needs to renegotiate its relationship with the 27 other members of the bloc.

It will be a tough sell. France's foreign minister signaled resistance to any major concessions on Britain's push for less centralized EU control.

Cameron started his tour with lunch at the official residence of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, a center-right leader Cameron described as a "very good friend and very strong partner in Europe."

Cameron said he would discuss with Rutte his reform agenda.

"The need for flexibility. The need to focus on growth and jobs. The need to make sure we complete the single market the need to make sure that, as you put it, Europe where necessary, but nation-states wherever possible," he said to Rutte.

Cameron's government plans a referendum by the end of 2017 on the question: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?"

Cameron wants Britain to stay in the EU, if he manages to negotiate a new, looser relationship with the group.

He was traveling to the Netherlands, France, Poland and Germany on Thursday and Friday as part of his efforts to talk with all of the leaders of the EU member states before a European Council meeting late next month. A planned trip to Denmark was canceled because Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt called a snap election.

After his meeting with Rutte, Cameron was heading to Paris for talks with French President Francois Hollande. On Friday, he meets with Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz in Warsaw before traveling to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

European leaders have expressed a desire to accommodate Britain, but it's unclear how far they will go to meet Cameron's desire for change - especially to the right of EU citizens to live and work anywhere in the bloc.

Other leaders have warned Cameron that free movement within the bloc is non-negotiable, but he hopes to gain agreement to restrict immigrants' right to claim benefits for a period of up to several years.

Hours before Cameron arrived in Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned Thursday that Cameron's plan for a referendum is "very risky."

Speaking on France-Inter radio, he said France is open to "improvements" in the way the EU functions, but "if it's about creating a specific status for Britain, so that it has advantages without constraints, then it's `No.'"

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said it was understandable that "some of our partners will adopt a hard line at the start of the negotiations."

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Lawless reported from London. Angela Charlton in Paris and Barry Hatton in Lisbon contributed to this report.

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