28th Oct 2016

Britain wants labour law opt-out in return for treaty change

British Prime Minister David Cameron has agreed to have a "constructive" look at an upcoming treaty change German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing for, but in return, he wants a reinforced British opt-out from EU labour laws.

A joint press conference on Friday (18 November) in Berlin there was a clear display of the differences between the two leaders when it comes to EU economic governance, a tax on financial transactions and the "limited" change to the EU treaty that Germany insists on.

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  • Berlin and London agree on little when it comes to the EU (Photo: REGIERUNGonline/Kugler)

Berlin wants the European Commission and the European Court of Justice to act as the judge and jury for any eurozone members that break the fiscal rules.

Cameron agreed to have a "constructive" attitude towards the treaty change, which Britain could still veto. In return, he wants to regain powers from Brussels, for instance in regards to a possible revamping next year of an EU law on the maximum working week.

With a considerable minority in his Conservative party demanding a referendum on exiting the EU, Cameron is keen to avoid any treaty change that may require a plebiscite in his country - a vote that would all most certainly go against staying in the bloc. Merkel explained that the limited change will only apply to the 17 eurozone countries. But it has to be agreed by all 27 EU member states.

She did not mention EU labour laws in her press conference. And diplomats in Brussels have so far not discussed any EU labour law opt-outs in connection to the treaty change proposals to be tabled by Council chief Herman Van Rompuy next month.

But it is true that German and British positions have converged on the working-week legislation in the past, one diplomat told this website. Neither Berlin nor London want doctors or fire fighters who are on call to be considered as working full time, as possible changes to the directive may entail.

"For now, labour unions and employer associations have said they want to change the directive. If they agree and table a proposal, member states can agree or reject it, without changing the text. But for now there is no such proposal," one EU source said.


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