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Prime Minister David Cameron stepped up his campaign today for reforms in the European Union. Cameron says there needs to be an agreement to changes if he's to persuade Brits to vote to stay in the EU. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from London.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Prime Minister Cameron's Conservative Party was swept back into power in the last election and promised a referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017. At a speech in London this morning, he said it's time to end the drive for an ever closer political union among the 28 member states. After all, he said, they are ancient and diverse nations.
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DAVID CAMERON: That very diversity is Europe's greatest strength. Britain says let's celebrate that fact. Let's acknowledge that the answer to every problem is not always more Europe. Sometimes it's less Europe.
KENYON: Cameron is deliberately keeping his demands vague for now. But if he can win a legally binding agreement guaranteeing Britain greater flexibility, the prime minister says he'll campaign strongly for a vote to stay in the EU.
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CAMERON: But if we can't reach such an agreement and if Britain's concerns were to be met with a deaf ear, which I don't believe will happen, then we will have to think again about whether this European Union is right for us.
KENYON: The prospect of leaving the EU means different things to different people. Over in East London, there's a haven for tech startups. They call it the Silicon Roundabout. Where there was once empty office space, you can now find coffee bars, art galleries and rooms full of young employees and their entrepreneur bosses. Even on a cold and windy November morning the place is buzzing.
NILAN PEIRIS: Hi, I'm Nilan Peiris. I'm the vice president at Transfer Wise.
KENYON: Transfer Wise is an online international money transfer company. It was started by two Estonians who wanted to avoid hefty bank fees for moving money overseas. The company now has offices in the U.S., Britain and Europe.
PEIRIS: Bank accounts in over 50 countries, moving $750 million a month (laughter) and hence saving our customers $35 million a month in bank fees.
KENYON: For a company like this, there's a huge advantage to being based in Britain but having access to EU countries as well. Peiris says he can't imagine Britain voting to pull out of the union.
PEIRIS: Yeah, leaving the EU would be a bit of a crazy idea in my opinion. We would have to seriously review our position in the U.K. and whether it kind of made sense for us and for our customers.
KENYON: Experts are warning of all kinds of economic risks of an EU exit, from foreign investment to trade ties. But for a different view, take a quick trip to Twickenham in southwest London. Here we find the headquarters of Tighten Up, an engineering supply firm that's been here for more than 30 years. On the second floor of a suburban office park, co-director Hugh Bearryman says Britain's small and mid-sized businesses are drowning in EU paperwork and regulations.
HUGH BEARRYMAN: It was a lot easier to start a company 30 years ago than it is now.
KENYON: Bearryman says this move toward greater political integration is not what Britain signed up for when it backed the common market nearly 40 years ago.
BEARRYMAN: I'm very much looking forward to having a say because we haven't been given a say on political integration. We are governed by Eurocrats who make laws which are then passed into our own law. It's a disenfranchisement of sorts.
KENYON: That view is shared by a number of members of Prime Minister Cameron's Conservative Party. Assistant professor Kalypso Nicolaidis at the University of Oxford says it almost doesn't matter what Cameron achieves during the coming weeks of negotiations with the EU. The Euroskeptics won't be impressed.
KALYPSO NICOLAIDIS: The game for him is not to win them. It's to win British public opinion. And right now it is quite a drama here in Britain.
KENYON: Nikolaides says whether Cameron describes the results of the upcoming talks as success or failure may have a lot to do with where the debate goes from here. Some say the vote on whether to stay in the EU could come as early as next summer. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.