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British prime minister in Germany to push forward campaign for EU changes

BERLIN – British Prime Minister David Cameron sought to push forward his campaign for changes to the European Union during a visit to Germany on Thursday, arguing that his proposals would benefit the bloc as well as the U.K.

Cameron was in the Alps for a meeting of the Christian Social Union, the Bavaria-only sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives. He also met Merkel at the gathering Wednesday evening.

Cameron has committed to holding a referendum on Britain’s EU membership by the end of 2017. Before that, he is seeking a new deal for Britain, most controversially including welfare limits for other EU nationals intended to control migration.

He hopes to seal a deal at an EU summit next month and hold the referendum later this year.

“I’m confident with goodwill — and there is goodwill, I think, on all sides — we can bring these negotiations to a conclusion and then hold the referendum,” Cameron said after meeting with the CSU’s lawmakers.

He said that Britain, like EU heavyweight Germany, believes in the free movement of workers, “but we want to make sure that … our welfare system is not an unnatural draw to Britain.”

Cameron wrote in an op-ed for German daily Bild published earlier Thursday that the changes he wants “will benefit the EU too, and Germany can help deliver them.”

Merkel called Wednesday for work toward “decisions that could lead, out of our own interest, to getting a sensible package so that Great Britain can remain part of the EU.”

Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, which holds the EU presidency, said he hoped an agreement could be reached at the Feb. 18-19 summit in Brussels.

“I am relatively optimistic,” Rutte said. “But, still, a lot of work needs to be done.”

Cameron travels later Thursday to Hungary, an EU member since 2004 whose government has frequently been at odds with Brussels, but whose citizens also have benefited from the opening of Western European labour markets.

Speaking hours before Cameron’s scheduled arrival, Hungary’s foreign minister said that any British proposals to curtail social benefits for workers from other EU countries needed to be “within the current EU rules.”

“We would not view retreating from the European achievements as a positive process,” Peter Szijjarto said on state television. “At the same time, we understand the British challenges.”

Up to 200,000 Hungarians are believed to be living in Britain.

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Pablo Gorondi reported from Budapest, Hungary. Raf Casert in Amsterdam contributed to this report.