Monday

18th Feb 2019

UK talks: Cameron 'will have to face reality'

  • Cameron is ready to tell his partners that the UK leaving the EU is not "an empty threat". (Photo: Consillium)

British prime minister David Cameron and his EU partners are headed for a difficult discussion over dinner at the EU summit Thursday evening (17 December).

Cameron will try to make the case for the EU reforms he wants before organising a referendum on British EU membership, probably next year. He will face stern opposition on some of them.

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It will be the first time the 28 heads of state and government will talk about Cameron's demands since he set them out in a letter last month.

In a letter last week, European Council president Donald Tusk said the discussion should be "a substantive political discussion" in order to "to prepare a concrete proposal to be finally adopted in February."

'No easy request'

In the latest versions of the summit draft conclusions, the "United Kingdom" was still blank on Wednesday, indicating that little progress has been made ahead of the leaders' discussion.

"There is no easy request in the package, all of them are difficult," a EU official said. "There is no agreement on any of the issues which have been negotiated."

But "the discussion among leaders might be more fruitful than discussions among lawyers and diplomats," the official added.

The most difficult topic will be Cameron's demand to cut benefits for EU citizens living in the UK, which is widely considered as discriminatory and against EU law.

"We don't know how to move forward on the welfare issue," the EU official said.

Granting Cameron what he wants would require a EU treaty change, which is opposed by many member states.

The British PM is expected to push for that solution anyway, enabling measures which are not permitted under the existing treaties.

Cameron's "view is that in order to achieve his objective he will need primary law change," a senior EU diplomat said.

No empty threat

Officials with knowledge of the British position say no other plan has been put on the table and that Cameron will insist on treaty change unless he is proposed alternatives to curb EU migration to the UK and its consequences on British public services and infrastructures.

Cameron is said to be ready to tell his partners that the UK leaving the EU is not "an empty threat" and that he "has to deliver" to British public opinion.

Cameron got, on Wednesday, a first indication of the discussion to come. In a speech at the Bundestag, German chancellor Angela Merkel warned that EU principles could not be altered.

"We will not put the fundamental achievements of European integration in question, in particular, the principles of freedom of movement and non-discrimination of European citizens," Merkel said.


She said she wanted "to reach an agreement with the British government," however.

"It is important that Cameron hears the reality of legal and political concerns and reservations," a second senior EU diplomat said.

"Leaders have a tendency to consider that objections from jurists cease to exist when we reach political level. It is important to show him that it is not a jurist' whim or a technocrat's blocking," the diplomat added.

Cameron is likely to be asked to himself present alternatives to his plans.

"We are in a discussion, the question is who will blink first," a third diplomat said.

'Everyone has to be open'

Other demands from Cameron's list will also require discussion, although they are less controversial, such as on relations between the eurozone and non-eurozone countries, especially the UK and its financial sector.

"It is important to make sure that we do not create obstacles to the necessary deepening of the eurozone," the second diplomat said.

The objective of the discussion, which could drag into the middle of the night, is to bring political guidance to diplomats and jurists, who will then draft the political declarations and legal texts to be agreed on in February.

Officials and diplomats say Cameron's partners want to listen to his motivations and the politial context he is facing at home.

"No member states speculates on a failure" of the whole negotiation", a diplomat said. "We don’t expect a row with Cameron," another said.

"The discussion will be good if Cameron is specific and open when it comes to presenting the context," the first EU official said.

"If we are to make progress, everyone around the table has to be open. On this basis we'll manage to find a way forward."

Tusk: UK reform talks are 'difficult'

The European Council president said there is "no consensus" on British demands to cut benefits for EU citizens and urged EU leaders to find a compromise before February.

EU aims for UK deal in February

In December, EU leaders will hold initial talks. In February, they'll try to agree on reforms to keep Britain in the EU. "It will be all about the details."

Member states gain time in UK talks

British prime minister David Cameron and his partners vowed to find "mutually satisfactory solutions" to keep Britain in the EU but laid out no clear roadmap.

Eurosceptic MPs put Cameron under pressure

Conservative MPs have asked Cameron to let them campaign for an Out vote, with a former British defence minister saying the UK should leave the union.

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