British Prime Minister David Cameron is warning the European Union of tough times ahead as his nation is seeking a drastic reform of the bloc ahead of a referendum on whether to leave.

In his first meeting with his EU counterparts since his election victory, Cameron said that "there will be lots of noise, lots of ups and downs along the way."

Cameron has pledged to hold a national vote on whether Britain should leave the EU before the end of 2017. The issue is one of the most important challenges facing his government in the next five years and will likely start to increasingly affect the workings of the 28-nation EU.

Cameron wants to get more powers back from the EU to national capitals.