Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

EU and UK caught in bad romance, Juncker warns

  • Juncker - "no debate, dialogue or compromise" on freedom of movement. (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

European Commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker has given the clearest hint yet that he would be prepared to see the UK leave the EU, comparing the UK’s 42-year membership of the bloc to a romance gone wrong.

“People shouldn’t stay together if conditions aren’t the same as when things started,” said Juncker in Paris at the weekend, quipping that “it’s easy to fall in love and more difficult to stay together".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The UK joined the then European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, a decision confirmed by a referendum in 1975, but has long been regarded by many as an ‘awkward partner’.

“I am for the respect of member states, respect between the institutions and member states. I am against all forms of grovelling,” said Juncker.

Meanwhile, he ruled out the prospect of UK-pushed treaty changes to reform EU rules on free movement saying that there would be “no debate, dialogue or compromise” on an issue which he described as "red lines which could not be crossed".

“We can fight against abuses - and national lawmakers can do that - but the EU won’t change the treaties to satisfy the whim of certain politicians,” added Juncker.

The commission president's stance is a political blow to prime minister David Cameron ahead of the UK’s general election in May.

Cameron has promised to re-negotiate the UK’s EU membership terms if his Conservative party forms a majority, followed by an ‘in/out’ referendum in 2017.

The UK prime minister’s rhetoric on EU migration is likely to intensify in the coming weeks, with surveys suggesting that immigration, rather than the economy or public services, is the most important issue to voters.

Opinion polls at the weekend put Cameron’s Conservative party on 28 percent, five points behind the Labour party and only eight ahead of Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party.

While other EU countries, particularly in northern Europe, have complained about so-called ‘welfare tourism’, with Angela Merkel’s German government proposing legislation to curb access to child benefits and other payments, Cameron wants to go further by requiring all EU migrants to have a job within six months of arriving in the UK.

He also wants them to pay into the UK’s tax and social security programmes for four years before they can receive certain benefits and plans to end the payment of child benefit to dependents of EU migrants in their home country.

However, last autumn Cameron dropped a plan to cap the number EU nationals able to come to the UK amid opposition from Berlin and other capitals, and following warnings that this would breach the EU treaties.

Germany gives no ground to UK on EU migration

Merkel gave no new ground to Cameron on curbing EU migration following talks in London, stating that abuse of welfare benefits can be better handled in other ways.

Opinion

EU-Israel trade agreement must be on table to stop Rafah attack

The EU-Israel association trade agreement enabled €46.8bn of trade last year. Exports rose for both parties by around 20 percent in 2022. As the bloc's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said: "Yes, we have the capacity to influence [Israel]."

Latest News

  1. African leaders unveil continent-wide plan to buy medicines
  2. EU urban-rural divide not bridged by cohesion policy, report finds
  3. Impending Rafah disaster shows up politics of humanitarian aid
  4. Sweden heading into Nato, after Orbán-Kristersson deal
  5. EU-Israel trade agreement must be on table to stop Rafah attack
  6. 'Nightmare' 2024 sees Orbán struggle ahead of EU elections
  7. 'Crying wolf' win for chemicals lobby at Antwerp EU meeting
  8. Hungary blocks EU appeal for Israel not to strike Rafah

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us