Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, warned on Monday that positions were hardening on Britain’s future in Europe ahead of the crucial summit he will chair on Thursday and the risk of break-up was real.
David Cameron scrapped a debate at the European parliament on Tuesday and scheduled a meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European commission, amid fears that a proposed settlement geared to keeping the UK in the EU could unravel because of growing European objections to the concessions promised to Britain.
“This is a critical moment,” Tusk warned. “It is high time we started listening to each other’s arguments more than to our own. It is natural in negotiations that positions harden, as we get closer to crunch time. But the risk of break-up is real because this process is indeed very fragile. Handle with care. What is broken cannot be mended.”
The stark warning from the former Polish prime minister, who presides over the EU summit on Thursday and who has been charged with drafting the settlement rewriting the terms of Britain’s EU membership, came as east European leaders staged a mini-summit in Prague to hammer out a common position on the proposed British deal.
Bohuslav Sobotka, the Czech prime minister, who chaired the meeting of four central European countries – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic – said they had agreed a position but that he would not divulge it before informing Tusk.