Tuesday

22nd Jan 2019

EU leaders stuck on key issues in 'tense' UK talks

  • Cameron (second from right) at the European Council, along with his Estonian counterpart, Taavi Roivas (l), Greek PM Alexis Tsipras (r) an Tusk (Photo: Council of the European Union)

[Updated 19 February, 7:00] Previously outstanding issues in the UK-EU negotiations remained on the table after the first round of discussions between European leaders and British prime minister David Cameron in Brussels on Thursday (18 February) evening.

In what EU sources described as "constructive, but tense" talks, there was no movement on either side on the five main outstanding issues, which were discussed with "intensity".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"There are no new issues and nothing has disappeared either," said an official in describing the state of talks.

"For now I can only state that we have made some progress, but a lot still remains to be done," European Council president Donald Tusk told the press late in the night.

"It's not only drama, real differences remain," one EU leader said later in the small hours of Friday.

Incorporating the UK's demands in the EU treaties at a later stage is still an issue for some countries.

Converging ideas

The emergency brake that would allow non-eurozone countries to raise concerns and delay decisions made by the 19-member currency bloc is another topic where member states and the UK disagree.

The key question is how many non-eurozone countries can trigger the brake - one or several.

Curbing social benefits is also a hurdle, with an issue being the duration of time that member states would be able to use a so-called safeguard mechanism that would allow them to restrict access to their welfare system for EU workers.

According to an EU official, here the ideas are "really converging". Other sources said the UK would want to see it in place for 7+3+3 years (seven years with a possibility of two renewals), which is unacceptable for some eastern European countries. They want to reduce it to three or four years, according to a diplomat.

Another issue is the indexation of child benefit for EU workers whose children live in their home country. Here, member states clash on retroactivity - whether the measure should apply only to newcomers or also to people already working in the UK.

The phrase "ever closer union", which is in the EU treaty since 1957, is another point of disagreement. The UK would like to clarify it is not a legally binding call for further integration.

'Auto-destruction clause'

The phrase "ever closer union" in the EU treaty, which the UK would like to clarify is not a legally binding call for further integration, is another point of disagreement.

"Here the legal reality clashes with the political reality," a source said.

All experts agree the phrase isn't a legal commitment to further integration, but for some countries, it a political commitment, another source explained.

Belgium refuses a "Europe a la carte" in which other countries have the possibility to free themselves from this political commitment.

Belgium, supported by France, is also asking for a so-called "auto-destruction clause" in the agreement. All reforms agreed would become null and void in case of a No vote at the British EU referendum.

The aim is again to prevent other countries to benefit in the future from the concessions made to Britain.

Bilateral meetings

EU Council chief Donald Tusk sat down with Cameron and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker after leaders wrap up a working dinner on the migration issue, and decide how to proceed further.

He later met French president Francois Hollande, Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka, and Belgian prime minister Charles Michel. Each of these three leaders were representing all other EU leaders on one issue, respectively financial governance, social benefits and treaty change.

Tusk's team will have to come up with new ideas, but negotiations on the proposals will take time.

"We have to see how to square the circle," said an EU official.

Bilateral discussions among leaders, including Cameron, were due to start again in the morning. The 28 leaders, along with European Parliament president Martin Schulz, will reconvene at around midday on Friday to try to strike a deal before the end of the day.

"The discussion is starting, the stage has been set," a French diplomat said during the night.

EU leaders haggle over UK issues in final push

With tough political issues still outstanding, EU leaders gather in Brussels on Thursday where they will try to seal a deal with the UK that would help Cameron to campaign successfully for Britain to remain in the bloc.

EU still 'waiting for Cameron to move'

Overnight talks for an agreement with the UK dragged on into the afternoon Friday, as EU leaders were still searching for compromises on social benefits, financial governance and treaty change.

Analysis

EU's Article 50: the rules for Brexit

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty contains the rules that a member state wishing to leave the EU must follow. But it has never been used and leaves many unanswered questions on Brexit.

German spies to monitor far-right AfD party

Germany's domestic spy agency, the BfV, is to start monitoring the far-right AfD party in a move endorsed by the government, but decried as a witch-hunt by the party's leaders.

News in Brief

  1. May U-turn on fee for EU nationals in UK
  2. French data watchdog gives Google €50m fine
  3. EU hits Russians with sanctions over Salisbury attack
  4. 'Don't look for answers to Brussels', EU tells UK
  5. Germany warns UK not to 'misuse' EU patience on Brexit
  6. Germany sent 8,658 asylum-seekers to other EU states
  7. Poll: Macron popularity up four percent
  8. 'Economy is broken' says Oxfam in global inequality report

Opinion

EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection

We must not undervalue what a massive step the European Parliament vote represents. The hard work has paid off. We can take a moment to celebrate, but the hard work begins again for finalising strong protection for European whistleblowers.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Turkish NBA star takes on Erdogan
  2. 'Meme ban' still on table in EU copyright bill, says MEP
  3. Brexit power grab by MPs hangs over May's 'Plan B'
  4. Polish mayor's funeral marred by Tusk TV dispute
  5. Salvini and Kaczynski - the new 'axis' powers?
  6. Seven member states miss climate plan deadline
  7. Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK
  8. Germany led way on EU rights protection

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us