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23rd Mar 2019

Cameron calls for EU migration curbs

  • "I am seeking reforms to address the concerns of the British people over our membership of the European Union," Cameron wrote. (Photo: Chatham House)

British PM David Cameron has included a daring call to limit free movement in his long-awaited wish list of EU reforms.

He set out his stall in a six-page letter sent to EU Council chief Donald Tusk and in a speech in London on Tuesday (10 November).

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  • Referendum expected June 2016, due, at the latest, by end of 2017 (Photo: secretlondon123)

Listing economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty, and immigration as priorities ahead of the UK’s in/out referendum, Cameron writes: “I am seeking reforms to address the concerns of the British people over our membership of the European Union.”

The immigration demands are the most contentious because they question the basic EU principle of free movement.

Cameron says future EU states should have limited freedoms and all EU nationals should have fewer welfare rights.

"We need to ensure that when new countries are admitted to the EU in the future, free movement will not apply to those new members until their economies have converged much more closely with existing member states.”

Member states should also “be able to exert greater control on arrivals from inside the EU.”

To that end, Cameron proposes that EU citizens coming to the UK "contribute for four years before they qualify for in-works benefits or social housing" and to put an end to "the practice of sending child benefit overseas.”

He also attacks the EU court in Luxembourg, saying its rulings have “widened the scope of free movement in a way that has made it more difficult to tackle abuse.”

Economic governance

Cameron notes that “the purpose of this letter is not to describe the precise means, or detailed legal proposals … that is a matter for the negotiation, not least as there may, in each case, be different ways of achieving the same result."

But he goes into more detail than before on other areas.

On economic governance, he wants to "safeguard" that the UK, which doesn’t use the euro, still has a say on eurozone decisions.

As explained by the British chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, last week, the British government is seeking "legally binding principles that safeguard the operation of the Union for all 28 member states - and a safeguard mechanism to ensure these principles are respected and enforced."

Among the principles the British PM wants to see set in stone are recognition that "the EU has more than one currency", that "there should be no discrimination and no disadvantage for any business on the basis if the currency”, and a guarantee "the integrity of the single market [is] protected.”

Cameron also wants that "taxpayers in non-euro countries should never be financially liable for operations to support the eurozone as a currency,” and that "any issues that affect member states must be discussed and decided by all member states".

Competitiveness

Another big-ticket item is deregulation.

Cameron gives kudos to the EU Commission for "supporting economic growth and scaling back unnecessary legislation,” as well as over its Capital Market Union and trade policies.

But he wants to "go much further”- to see the EU "fulfill its commitments to the free flow of capital, goods, and services" and to set “a target to cut the total burden on business.”

His demands on sovereignty are also likely to irk EU capitals.

"Questions of sovereignty have been central to the debate about the European Union in Britain for many years," Cameron notes in his letter.

Sovereignty

The British PM calls "to end Britain's obligation to work towards an 'ever closer union' as set out in the [EU] Treaty”.

"It is very important to make clear that this commitment will no longer apply to the United Kingdom," he adds, referring to the political formula, which some member states, especially the EU founding countries, cherish.

"I want to do this in a formal, legally-binding and irreversible way," Cameron adds.

The British PM also wants to "enhance the role of national parliaments" and proposes that "groups of national parliaments, acting together, can stop unwanted [EU] legislative proposals."

He says the principle of “subsidiarity,” EU jargon for lawmaking at local level where possible, must be "fully implemented".

Head, not heart

The demands will be discussed with other EU leaders at the December summit.

The British letter reminds the EU that the UK is the bloc’s “second largest economy”, which brings "an enormous contribution.”

But Cameron gave mixed messages about his readiness to compromise.

To Tusk, he wrote that he’s "ready to campaign with all my heart and soul to keep Britain inside a reformed European Union that continues to enhance the prosperity and security of all its member states."

In his speech, at the Chatham House think tank in London, he also warned eurosceptics that leaving the EU is not "some automatic fast-track to a land of milk and honey."

But he warned that he’s approaching the talks "with a frame of mind that is practical, not emotional. Head, not heart."

He said that, for Britain, "a proud, independent nation [that] intend[s] to stay that way", the EU is "a means to an end, not an end in itself.”

He added that the referendum, due by the end of 2017, but expected in June next year, will be "the only chance to get this right, for Britain and for the whole European Union."

There will be "no second chance.”

"This choice cannot be undone. If we vote to leave then we will leave."

’Difficult’

The EU Commisson’s initial reaction was cautious.

"Prima facie, we see a number of elements which appear to be feasible, like finding ways to increase the role of national parliaments," Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told press.

“[But] some issues are difficult, like ‘ever closer union’ and relations between the euro ins and outs, and some things … are highly problematic, as they touch upon the fundamental freedoms of the internal market,” he added.

"Direct discrimination between EU citizens clearly falls into this last category.”

Martin Schulz, the European Parliament president, voiced "strong doubts about the legality of the four-year ban on access to welfare.”

He said the EU still needs to know “what specific ideas the British government will come up with in the end in this particular area.”

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