The British Prime Minister David Cameron promised his voters that by the end of 2017, an in-out referendum on British EU membership would take place. He made it clear, that he is overwhelmingly in favor of the UK staying in the EU, but it has to be a reformed EU. Discussions and informal talks have been ongoing for some time, with the aim of reaching an agreement on EU reform at the December 2015 European Council. Last week, Mr. Cameron finally sent his reforms proposal to the European Council President Donald Tusk.
The British ask for a change in 4 areas. Firstly, economic governance. Non-euro states should not be treated as un-equal to euro-states. After the eurozone crisis, new mechanisms were put in place, some of them affecting non-euro countries, without giving them enough say in euro area matters. David Cameron asks that this is resolved. It must be noted, however, that negotiations on this issue have been ongoing ever since the eurozone crisis.
Secondly, Mr. Cameron asks that the EU is more focused on competitiveness. The UK asks for less regulation, better Common Market, quick establishment of the proposed Capital Markets Union and the continuation of international trade talks. This could be seen as the least controversial demand.
Thirdly, sovereignty. David Cameron asks a bigger role for Westminster, and for other EU national parliaments. Today, national parliaments have a certain say in new legislative proposals. But they can only make the Commission to rethink the proposal and provide new arguments, or minor changes at best. The British PM asks that a substantial group of national parliaments would be able to stop new legislative proposals altogether. Also, in a symbolical manner, the UK asks to be excluded from the “ever closer union” principle of the EU.
And finally, the fourth issue is intra-EU migration. The UK would like to curb the free flow of people inside the Union. Many thousands of Poles and other Eastern Europeans live and work in the UK. Mr. Cameron asks that future acceding countries´ citizens are allowed to work and live in the UK only once their country converges sufficiently with the EU average. Also, the UK plans to curb social benefits and other entitlements for non-UK citizens in Britain. Some of these are a matter of British law, but others will need endorsement from the EU. This is regarded as the most controversial issue.
The list of demands provides no novelty, the demands were expected. Some of them are easily negotiable, but the free movement of people was described by many, including the German Chancellor, the EC President and representatives of Eastern EU states as non-negotiable. Also, even though the negotiations have been going on for some time, the late timing of Cameron´s letter, plus the crises concerning the Paris attacks and refugees, could make it impossible to reach an agreement in December. In the UK, no date for the referendum was set so far, so there should be enough time. Mr. Cameron even said that it could be held after 2017. However, the “out” campaigns are much better financed for now and thus some call for the vote to take place as soon as possible.
2nd May 2018