Sunday

17th Nov 2019

Cameron-EU deal is 'good enough'

  • David Cameron will have to sell the Tusk draft deal to his voters and fellow member states as well (Photo: Conservatives)

The EU-UK draft deal unveiled Tuesday (2 February), which is yet to be agreed by EU leaders, affords British prime minister David Cameron little room for manoeuvre, and has left sceptics unimpressed.

Cameron said Tuesday in a branch of Siemens in Wiltshire that “hand on heart” he had achieved what he promised, and that he would want the UK to opt into the EU because the terms were good.

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However, backbencher MPs in Cameron's Conservative Party were left unimpressed, while Nigel Farage, leader of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party, called the draft deal “pathetic”.

The main complaint with the proposals, which Tusk put forward after extensive negotiations, was the process for curbing in-work benefits for EU workers is only gradual, applies to newly arrived EU citizens, and does not constitute a definite four-year ban.

Another issue is Cameron's demand to end child benefit payments to families abroad, which has been watered down to a process whereby payments are indexed according to the cost of raising a child in that particular country.

The Cameron-Tusk deal was also criticised for not including a change to the EU treaties, as Cameron had set out.

“It doesn’t change the treaty, but gives us the guarantee that when next time the treaty is revised, our demands will be included,” a UK source argued.

“It’s a good enough agreement, … it’s towards the minimum end that Cameron could credibly get away with,” Pawel Swidlicki, an analyst with the think tank Open Europe commented.

Swidlicki points out that the two key major issues are the length of time the emergency brake for curbing benefits can be enforced, and strengthening safeguards for non-eurozone countries from decisions taken by the currency bloc.

The UK secured a measure whereby, if there are concerns that the eurozone countries are to take a decision that may prove detrimental to the UK, it can “escalate” the debate, requesting that the matter be discussed at European Council level and not at the usual 'technical' level, such as amongst ministers, for example. But the UK would not be able to stop outright the 19-member currency zone from making the decision.

The threshold for national parliaments to use the so-called “red card”, to amend or stop proposed EU legislation, is high, but Swidlicki argues it is still significant that it is included in the draft deal.

UK officials insisted the draft was not perfect, but served as a good basis for a final deal when EU leaders meet in mid-February.

“The architecture is coming into place that satisfies our concerns,” a UK official said.

In the UK parliament, however, a leading eurosceptic Tory MP, Steve Baker, said the government was “polishing poo” in its spin on the Tusk plans.

David Lidington, Cameron’s Europe minister, tried to calm MPs, saying the UK was “in the middle of a live negotiation and in a very crucial stage”.

Balancing act

In a tight balancing act, UK government sources also tried to assuage concerns among member states.

“We actively support the deepening of the eurozone. We don’t want to stop it. We don’t want to veto anything,” a UK government source said in an attempt to offer assurances that London would not impede eurozone integration when it asked for further discussions on possible decisions by the currency bloc.

He admitted that the scope of this tool was still to be discussed with member states in the next weeks, adding that eurozone legislation could still go ahead even if the UK expressed concerns.

The UK might push to make it clearer that an “ever closer union” would not mean automatic further political integration. It wants its "unique membership" to be recognised in a future treaty change.

But first, representatives of member states will meet on Friday to have a first discussion on the proposal.

“If this [draft deal] changes fundamentally on substance, then we have a crisis,” a UK source warned.

EU tables deal on UK demands

EU Council president Donald Tusk released a draft for an agreement to keep the UK in the EU that includes an up to four-year limitation on benefits but no treaty change.

Agenda

EU awaits next step in UK talks this WEEK

A draft proposal answering British demands for EU reform is expected. At the EU Parliament plenary session, migration, Turkey, diesel car and data protection will be on the agenda.

Cameron meets EU officials, as UK deal gets closer

Cameron is holding talks with EU officials on the UK's membership on Friday and Sunday as a deal might be within reach, with an "emergency break" on welfare benefits for EU workers.

EU states tentatively approve draft UK deal

EU capitals are still studying the small print of the Tusk-Cameron deal, but some, including in eastern Europe, gave cautious backing for the pact despite earlier concern on welfare rights of EU workers.

UK to discuss Tusk draft with EU states

Government advisers and EU ambassadors will gather on Friday in Brussels to discuss for the first time EU Council chief Tusk's proposals on UK requests. Difficult questions expected.

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