Analysis by Gabriella ATKINS
At midday yesterday (2nd February 2016), European Council President Donald Tusk presented a proposal for ‘a new settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union’. After months of behind-the-scenes negotiation, Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the proposal as ‘something worth fighting for’ arguing he would support Britain joining the EU on these terms (if it was not already a member). However, Nigel Farage described the proposal as ‘pathetic really’ and ‘hardly worth the wait’. So what exactly is included in this deal and what bearing does this have on the upcoming referendum?
David Cameron argues he has managed to deliver on the four areas he promised: migration, sovereignty, competitiveness and relations between countries in and out of the Eurozone.
Migration and Benefits
The deal allows for an ‘emergency brake’ on welfare (Section D). However, there is no specified time limit as to how long this brake might be allowed to last. This could be an area of issue for other EU Member States. The Czech Republic’s Europe Minister, Tomas Prouza, indicated that the emergency brake is ‘reasonably balanced’, but a point of negotiation would be the length of time the brake can be applied without review and the ease off extension. The deal also outlines that there will be a mechanism by which Member States can apply to limit the paying of in-work benefits for EU migrants for up to four years. This will have to be ‘graduated’, beginning with ‘an initial complete exclusion but gradually increasing access to such benefits to take account of the growing connection of the worker with the labour market’. Furthermore child benefit will become index-linked to the country in which the child is resident. This is a concession by David Cameron, who initially wanted to stop all exportation of child benefits.
Donald Tusk acknowledges that the UK ‘is not committed to further political integration’. Furthermore, the draft deal clarifies that the notion of ‘ever closer union’ in the Treaty preambles refers not to ‘political integration’ but ‘to promote trust and understanding among peoples living in open and democratic societies sharing a common heritage of universal values’ (Section C). How this balancing of opinions is to be implemented has yet to be decided. There is also the outline of a ‘red card’ process, essentially a step-up from the existing ‘yellow card’ method. Under the new red-card proposal, objections to draft Union legislation, if they can be formed within 12 weeks with the support of 55% votes from national Parliaments, will be acknowledged and discussed by the Council. Valentin Kreilinger, an associate research fellow to the Jacques Delors Institut in Berlin, argues that such a system would require a level of cooperation amongst Parliaments that would be very difficult to achieve and highlights that the yellow card system has only been triggered twice.
Competitiveness is discussed in the deal in a very vague manner. Whilst the deal does contain language relating to David Cameron’s objective to ‘lower administrative burdens and compliance costs…especially small and medium enterprises’, there is nothing specific. Instead ‘[p]rogress on all these elements of a coherent policy for competitiveness will be closely monitored and reviewed as appropriate’ (Section B). Unfortunately this sounds very similar to previous promises made by the EU.
Relations between Eurozone and non-Eurozone countries
The deal acknowledges that there is a pressing need to balance the Union’s ‘objective to establish an economic and monetary union whose currency is the euro’ with the aims and considerations of those nations who are not in the Eurozone (Section A). A new measure is outlined that will allow non-Eurozone countries to highlight potential ramifications of Union economic policy on their national economies and currency. The deal emphasises the importance of ‘mutual respect’ and outlines the rather lofty goal of facilitating ‘the coexistence between different perspectives within the single institutional framework ensuring both the effective operability of Union mechanisms and the equality of Member States before the Treaties’. This sounds all too reminiscent of EU legislation that aims at greatness but falls down on the steps to reach it.
What happens next?
David Cameron is now under pressure to persuade the other 27 Member States to agree to the proposed deal by 18th-19th February. There is room for negotiation, but Cameron does need a deal by this point as failure to do so would mean delaying the provisional referendum date set for June. Delay would push the referendum into September, when it could clash with a peak in the migration crisis which could harm the argument to remain within the EU.
The deal does represent a major milestone in negotiations: David Cameron has actually managed to persuade the EU to negotiate on issues which previously seems beyond the realm of discussion. Boris Johnson’s analysis of the deal is perhaps the most realistic: David Cameron has done a ‘very good job of getting people to see things his way […] there is much much more, however, that needs to be done’.