UK offered legally binding EU commitments
By Eric Maurice
EU leaders will next week agree to grant Britain a "legally binding" set of measures to accommodate British demands for EU reforms ahead of an EU membership referendum later this year.
According to draft conclusions of next week's EU summit, seen by EUobserver, the leaders will adopt a package of six documents on EU migration, economic governance, competitiveness, and implementation of EU laws.
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"The set of arrangements, which are fully compatible with the Treaties … constitute an appropriate response to the concerns of the United Kingdom," the draft document says.
First, EU leaders will adopt a decision "concerning a new settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union".
"This decision gives legal guarantee that the matters of concern to the United Kingdom as expressed in the letter of 10 November 2015 have been addressed," the draft says.
"It is legally binding, and may be amended or repealed only by common accord of the heads of state or government of the member states of the European Union."
The second and third annexes will concern economic issues.
They will include a statement containing a draft Council decision "on specific provisions relating to the effective management of the banking union and of the consequences of further integration of the euro area" as well as a declaration on competitiveness.
Relations between the eurozone and non-euro countries have become a battlefield between the UK and countries like France.
The UK wants to ring-fence the City of London's financial activities from eurozone decisions and get guarantees it will not pay for future eurozone rescues.
But France has refused any arrangement that would prevent further eurozone integration.
Red cards, emergency brakes
British demands on subsidiarity, the EU principle according to which some issues are better dealt with at a national or local level, will be addressed in a fourth annex.
The annex will consist of a declaration by the European Commission "on a subsidiarity implementation mechanism and a burden reduction implementation mechanism".
The document is to include details on how a group of national parliaments can act together to block a legislative proposal, a mechanism known as a “red card” in EU jargon.
The two most important arrangements to be agreed at the summit will be two commission declarations "on the safeguard mechanism" and "on issues related to the abuse of the right of free movement of persons".
These two annexes will set out the so-called "emergency brake" on EU migration.
A draft agreement proposed by European Council president Donald Tusk on 2 February put forward a mechanism to limit in-work benefits for up to four years for new EU workers in another country.
"The limitation should be graduated, from 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 of the host member state," the Tusk draft said.
Several EU countries, especially Poland and Hungary, are still wary about the scheme for fear of seeing their citizens discriminated in the UK and beyond.
Deficiencies in Schengen
The draft conclusions and the six annexes will be tinkered with until the last moment before the 18-19 February summit.
A crucial meeting of EU ambassadors and national EU advisers will take place on Thursday (11 February) in order to bridge remaining differences.
The annexes are the most complex part of their work in legal terms and the most sensitive in political terms.
The draft conclusions also include elements on the migration crisis.
EU leaders will agree that "important steps have been taken by Turkey in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Action Plan on access to the labour market and data sharing with the EU. However, the flows of migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey remain much too high".
In a reference to Greece, they will also say that "addressing serious deficiencies identified in the application of the Schengen acquis in the field of management of the external borders constitutes an important step towards restoring in a concerted manner the normal functioning of the free circulation area".