France says won't give in on finance, welfare at summit on Britain's EU future

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande stuck to a firm line on Friday on limiting concessions to London on financial sector reforms and welfare at a European Union summit struggling to work out a deal to keep Britain in the bloc.

French President Francois Hollande leaves a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, in the early hours of February 19, 2016. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Hollande said he would feel regret if Britons voted to leave the EU in a planned referendum, but that there were limits to what Paris could agree to satisfy British Prime Minister David Cameron’s push for EU reforms and persuade voters to stay.

“There can be no special case for the City” of London, he told France Inter radio of Britain’s push for safeguards for its financial sector against being harmed by decisions taken in the euro zone.

Hollande said that reforms demanded by Britain could in turn give its financial sector an unfair advantage over other European nations, adding: “I cannot accept that”.

“Britain cannot have a right to veto what we are doing in the euro zone. That’s a given,” he said.

Hollande also said that “many nations” at the summit opposed British Prime Minister David Cameron’s calls to be able to restrict social benefits for migrants workers.

“That is where it grates the most,” he said in a two-hour interview during a break at the summit. “You can’t give into any blackmail.”

Still, Hollande expressed hope that the summit would reach a deal on Britain but that it would be a long evening. “We will find a compromise, I hope so,” he said.

He added that whether or not Britain decides to stay, the bloc would have to make decisions in future to define the European project.

Hollande also warned that disputes over the refugee crisis were a threat to Europe and urged a common approach to avoid countries re-establishing border checks. “Otherwise it would be the end of Europe,” he said.

Reporting by Ingrid Melander, Matthias Blamont, Emmanuel Jarry in Paris and Jean-Baptiste Vey in Brussels; Writing by Alister Doyle