Tuesday

22nd Sep 2020

EU aims for UK deal in February

  • Cameron (l) and Tusk (r): December summit will be used for discussion on changes. (Photo: Consillium)

British and EU leaders will try to reach a deal on British demands for reforms at February's EU summit, while using the upcoming summit on 17 December for political guidance.

"Debate" at the December meeting "should pave the way for a deal in February," European Council president Donald Tusk said on Twitter on Thursday (3 December).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

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

... or subscribe as a group

Tusk announced he will send a letter to EU leaders on Monday (7 December) to give his assessment on the ongoing talks.

In a phone call with Germany's Angela Merkel on Thursday, UK prime minister David Cameron admitted that "the scale of what we are asking for means we will not resolve this in one go.”

Cameron "did not expect to get agreement at the December European Council," his office said after the call.

"Instead, we should keep up the pace of discussions and use the summit for a substantive discussion of the proposed changes in each area."

The four "baskets" of British demands, set out in a letter sent by Cameron to EU leaders, are: economic governance; competitiveness; sovereignty; and immigration.

Fundamental principles

The recognition that no deal will be reached this month is not a surprise.

There is wide consensus that most of the points raised in Cameron's letter, especially on competitiveness, are just "boxes to be ticked.” But some demands raise difficult legal issues.

"It will be all about the details," an MEP with close knowledge of the negotiations told EUobserver.

The main issues are British demands on separation of powers between eurozone and non-euro members and on access to benefits for EU citizens in the UK.

Cameron wants Europeans to wait for four years before being entitled to welfare.

In an assessment of British demands, Jonathan Faull, the chair of the European Commission task force on the UK referendum, said the demand is "highly problematic" and "touches upon fundamental principles" of the EU.

Several EU countries, mainly from Central and Eastern Europe, have expressed strong opposition.

"We don't know how to do it," the MEP said. "This is so obviously discriminatory against EU citizens."

The MEP added "it is not easy to put on paper" what Cameron wants, in terms of guarantees on the British pound and the City of London’s activities, while safeguarding British influence on eurozone decisions.

"You've got to separate eurozone and non-eurozone countries and at the same time keep the single market together," the MEP noted.

'Multi-destination Europe'

After Cameron sent his letter to EU leaders on 10 November, Tusk held so-called confessionals with EU member states’ representatives.

"The confessionals went rather well," Danuta Huebner, a Polish centre-right MEP who chairs the European Parliament committee on constitutional affairs, told EUobserver.

"They showed a lot of openness from member states to British demands", she said.

But, she added, the general feeling among member states and EU institutions is that "we cannot undermine the EU's biggest achievements: the single market and free movement."

Cameron also intends "to end Britain's obligation to work towards an 'ever closer union' as set out in the [EU] Treaty".

Diplomats have started to use a new concept - "multiple destination Europe" - as opposed to the old “two-speed” or “multi-speed” Europe, to frame a solution to the highly symbolic issue.

"The question is how you bring speed and destination together,” satisfying both the UK, which doesn't want to follow, and member states which want to keep the aim of "ever-closer Union", the MEP with knowledge of the talks, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

On 17 December, the 28 EU leaders will, for the first time, discuss the British demands in one room and could agree on general political guidances for technical talks. They might also create a working group to draft the accord to be endorsed in February.

Emotional campaign

If a deal is reached at the February summit, the EU membership referendum coud be held in June or September, between UK's regional election in May and traditional party conferences in September.

Whatever the outcome of negotiations and whatever Cameron gets, the vote will be "difficult and tight," Huebner, who recently led an EP delegation to London, told EUobserver.

"We came back more worried than before," she said. "We heard from many people support for the UK leaving the EU and that what Cameron will get doesn't matter, they will still vote No."

"The campaign in favour of Brexit is very emotional," she added. "They don’t care about the facts … What citizens need is information about what happens the day after."

In the UK, one third of voters will vote Yes and another third will vote No, whatever happens, the other MEP said. For Cameron, in his negotiation process with the EU, "the last third of voters is the target.”

Interview

Any post-Brexit deal would be tough on the UK

Any post-Brexit deal would be tough on the UK and a Norway-style deal is questionable, warned Catherine Bearder, LibDem MEP, who will lead her party's campaign to stay in the EU as polls begin to show a majority for Brexit.

Britain's EU vote to ask 'remain or leave?'

The question UK voters will have to answer in the planned referendum on EU membership will probably indicate a clear "remain or leave" alternative, London has said.

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.

UK talks: Cameron 'will have to face reality'

The British prime minister is to present his demands for EU reforms to the other leaders. Cuts in benefits for EU citizens and treaty change will face strong opposition.

British PM in 'difficult' talks on EU welfare

British PM, in Poland and Romania, calls for welfare restrictions on EU migrants, says refugee crisis prompting UK voters to think: "Oh Christ, push Europe away."

News in Brief

  1. Italy to cut number of MPs by one third
  2. World's richest 1% 'fuelling climate crisis'
  3. Polish government at risk over animal-rights law
  4. UK 'could see 50,000 new corona cases a day'
  5. EU cuts carbon market compensation for industry
  6. Russia and US could scrap another nuclear arms treaty
  7. Turkish president sues Greek newspaper over headline
  8. Hungarian ministry wanted list of journalists' foreign trips

Opinion

On toppling statues

The internationally-acclaimed author of King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild, writes on Belgium's problems with statues, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  3. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID-19 halts the 72nd Session of the Nordic Council in Iceland
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCivil society a key player in integration
  6. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular

Latest News

  1. Borrell gives EU four weeks to save foreign policy
  2. Belarus opposition leader urges EU to be 'braver'
  3. Kyrgyzstan cannot paper over death of Azimjon Askarov
  4. 'Big Three' EP groups nominate homophobe for Sakharov prize
  5. Cyprus leaves EU ministers red-faced on Belarus
  6. EU seals new Covid-19 deal amid global distribution fears
  7. German court hears harrowing testimony of Syria torture
  8. Turkey, Belarus and migration in the EU spotlight This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us