I recently carried out an analysis of David Cameron’s letter to Donald Tusk (see here). There are now further developments, which have been reported by Reuters, the highly-acclaimed News Agency. Reuter says that:
“European Union leaders are not only unlikely to reach a deal next month with Britain on its demands for reform of the bloc but may not even narrow differences at a pre-Christmas summit, officials and diplomats said. After a week of “confessional” meetings between aides to summit chairman Donald Tusk and other member state envoys in turn, which should conclude on Monday (23 Nov 2015) , people involved told Reuters many opposed some of the demands British Prime Minister David Cameron laid out in a letter to Tusk two weeks ago.”
The Prime Minister has set an end-2017 deadline for a UK referendum on EU membership. In order to stay in, he says, the UK needs changes. The longer such negotiations with EU partners take and the more divided they become, the greater the likelihood he will fail to deliver any reforms or re-negotiation at all. It is important to remember that any so-called “re-negotiation” will have to be approved by all the other 27 EU member states.
One proposal many leaders object to is that immigrants from EU states wait four years before receiving in-work benefits such as tax credits and support for children living abroad – an idea many officials and diplomats see as discriminating among EU citizens on national grounds, and contrary to basic EU treaty law.
“The situation is between difficult and very difficult,” one official said late last week, after more than 20 of the 27 other member states had their meeting with staff working for Tusk, the European Council president whose job it is to forge compromise among the members of the European Union.
The process of one-to-one meetings, a standard EU procedure, is intended to frame negotiations and there had been some hope in recent months that at least the bulk of a deal might be ready to be endorsed by the Council at its next meeting on Dec. 17-18. But the official said it was hard to imagine that a deal would be reached at that summit and that even constructive discussions were not a certainty: “Many countries say they want more Europe, not less Europe. Cameron wants less Europe. There is no agreement on individual issues like the four years and no one will agree to discrimination.”
Other leaders see Cameron as failing to show solidarity on matters such as the influx of refugees to Europe and financial support from the UK for the Eurozone financial crisis.
Earlier this month, the EU’s executive divided Cameron’s demands for reform into three categories: the feasible, the difficult and the “highly problematic”. The EU has not indicated what might even fall into the feasible category. “No closer union” is one demand, but another refers particularly to curbing social benefits for workers from other EU states. Such curbs are a particular dislike of ex-communist eastern states like Tusk’s fellow Poles, not just because many of their citizens work in the wealthier west but also because it is a touchstone of their emergence from Soviet control.
One EU diplomat said that, while most want to see Britain – the EU’s second biggest economy and one of the EU’s biggest financial contributors – remain in the bloc, its demands posed complex problems. In addition, the attacks on Paris, the conflict with Islamic State terrorists, plus the refugee crisis, will leave leaders with little time or interest to negotiate with Cameron over the next month, a diplomat said.
Cameron’s other demands include that EU law be amended to make clear that the bloc could not impose decisions on the non-euro members like Britain. He has also called for cutting EU red tape and to help the free flow of capital, goods and services.
“What is clear,” another EU official using very Euro-political language said, “is that there is flexibility and constructive attitudes from EU member states; everybody clearly expresses that they want to keep Britain in the EU and they are willing to be flexible. But at the same time, everybody recognises that it will be very difficult, that a number of the British demands are inherently difficult, including the one on social benefits.”
One does have to understand Eurospeak. “Difficult” is Eurospeak for “about the same chance as a snowflake in hell”. Very difficult means ”You cannot be serious. You are joking, yes?”
For those of us in Britain awaiting a once in a lifetime opportunity to vote on our membership of this political union, these developments are no joke!