21st Oct 2016


Crunch time on UK This WEEK

  • British PM David Cameron is pressing hard for an exclusive pact with the EU. (Photo: Number 10)

The future of Britain and the EU will be on the European leaders' table this week as they seek an agreement on EU reforms asked by British prime minister David Cameron.

According to draft conclusions of the summit seen by EUobserver, discussions at the EU summit on Thursday and Friday (18-19 February) will concentrate on a set of arrangements on EU migration, economic governance, competitiveness, and the implementation of EU laws.

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Any decision from the EU leaders on a new settlement for the UK in the EU will be legally binding.

Different declarations would lay the ground for legislative changes over the relations between the eurozone and non-eurozone countries, rules for the banking and financial sectors, the subsidiarity principle or the role of national parliaments in law making.

A last document would set out how benefits for EU workers in the UK and other countries could be limited for a certain period of time. Cameron has demanded a four-year ban, but several countries, mainly from central and eastern Europe, have countered that that discriminates against their citizens.

After a meeting of diplomats on Thursday (11 February), the "main political issues [were] still outstanding, and they will have to be dealt with by leaders next week," an EU source told EUobserver.

Visegrad weighs in on benefits

On Monday, the Visegrad group - the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland - will hold a meeting in Prague, where they will adopt a common position on benefits, which is the most sensitive issue in the UK talks.

France said it would oppose any arrangement that would prevent further integration of the eurozone and protect British financial institutions from common EU rules.

Last ditch talks will be held up until the summit. The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, will travel to Paris, Bucharest, Athens, Prague and Berlin on Monday and Tuesday (15-16 February) to "secure a broad political support" for an agreement.

On Tuesday, Cameron will be in Brussels to meet the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, and leaders of the political groups. The parliament will have a crucial role in the implementation of the deal, with MEPs having to vote on legislative changes agreed by the EU leaders.

Migration talks continue

As in every summit over the last year or so, migration will be another main issue.

After member states adopted recommendations on Friday asking Greece to "address deficiencies in external borders", EU leaders will once again stress the importance of identification, registration and fingerprinting of migrants in Italy and Greece.

"Much remains to be done, in particular on reception facilities necessary to accommodate migrants while their situation is being clarified," the draft seen by EUobserver says.

The document also insists on a "rapid" implementation of past decisions and that "work should be accelerated" to reach an agreement on the creation of an EU border and coast guard before the end of June.

With the bulk of migrants coming from Turkey, the EU neighbour will be present in all discussions and also represented in a mini-summit called by Austria just before the EU summit.

Turkey in town

At least 11 leaders, including Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu, will attend the meeting of the so-called "coalition of the willing", countries following German and Austrian-initiated plans to clear the Balkan migration route and prepare resettlement of refugees coming from Turkey once the influx to Europe has abated.

It will be the second meeting of this kind after a first one was held just before the December EU summit.

At the summit of 28, EU leaders will say that "important steps" have been taken by Turkey but that "the flows of migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey remain much too high" and that "further, decisive efforts" must be made.

The situation in Turkey's neighbour Syria, from where most of the refugees come, will certainly be discussed by EU foreign ministers on Monday. On Thursday, the EU, the US and Russia brokered a truce that Europeans hope will reduce the flow of migrants. But respect for the ceasefire is far from guaranteed.

Ministers are also expected to discuss whether to prolong the suspension of sanctions against Belarus. Sanctions were partially suspended after a calmer presidential election than usual last October and the release of a few political prisoners.

At the same time on Monday, agriculture ministers will discuss the situation of the markets and the difficulties in the milk and pork sectors, with France asking for new support measures amid farmer protests.

No new plan was on the official agenda by the end of the week, but French president François Hollande said on French television on Thursday that he talked with German chancellor Angela Merkel and that "things will move on; it cannot go like this".

MEPs talk money

The economy will be the main topic for MEPs this week.

On Monday, the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, will give the economic and monetary affairs committee his perspective on economic and monetary developments.

On Tuesday, the Eurogroup and current Ecofin chair, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, will be in the same seat and will discuss the economic state of play in the eurozone and maybe also the new anti-tax avoidance package, Greek debt and the situation of Italian banks.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, a mini-plenary session will bring together MEPs and some of their national colleagues for a debate about economic coordination, particularly the role of the European and national parliaments, as well as EU stability and economic governance.

The European Commission, for its part, is expected to propose on Tuesday its new energy package.

Women shake Poland's pillars of power

Polish women are marching again this Sunday and Monday. They could succeed where the opposition, the European Commission and other protests failed, and redraw Poland's political map.

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