8 November 2015

How might EU countries react to David Cameron’s EU reform letter?

David Cameron will send a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk on Tuesday, laying out his EU reform and renegotiation demands. Our ‘EU reform heat-map’ gives an overview of where each of the other 27 EU member states stands on the UK’s main reform proposals.

The heat-map is not a quantitative but an explanatory exercise. It is Open Europe’s assessment, based on public statements and private intelligence-gathering, of how each government might react to five of the key demands likely to be included in the letter:

  1. Safeguarding the rights of non-Eurozone countries
  2. An end to ‘ever closer union’ for all EU members
  3. Limiting EU migrants’ access to welfare
  4. A ‘red card’ for national parliaments
  5. Deepening the single market, boosting free trade and cutting red tape

The map below shows the overall position of each member state after aggregating up their position on the individual reform measures, which can be found in the smaller maps surrounding it.

OE_map_EU Reform Complete itemprop=

To see a high-resolution version of the overall map, click here.

To see the individual maps, click here (non-Eurozone safeguards), here (ever closer union), here (EU migrants’ access to welfare), here (national parliaments), and here (single market).

Key findings

Changing the rules on EU migrants’ access to benefits is likely to be the single most difficult item on David Cameron’s agenda. While the UK is far from isolated, several countries are wary that the Prime Minister is looking to undermine the fundamental principle of free movement and discriminate against their citizens living in the UK. Discussions on this issue stalled somewhat due to the Polish elections, but will now resume in earnest and remain top of the agenda.

Securing stronger safeguards for euro ‘outs’ is second in order of difficulty. The largest Eurozone countries – Germany, France and Italy – all agree with the principle, but the devil will be in the details. Any mechanism that comes across as standing in the way of closer Eurozone integration, or granting special protection to the UK’s financial services sector, will be less likely to fly.

Greater powers for national parliaments could be slightly easier to negotiate. The ‘yellow card’ warning system already exists in the EU Treaties – it would essentially be a matter of giving it more teeth. Nonetheless, some member states could put up resistance due to fears this could hamper further EU integration.

Ensuring that ‘ever closer union’ no longer applies to all EU member states should be relatively less controversial, as EU leaders have already acknowledged in the June 2014 European Council conclusions that this principle allows for “different paths of integration for different countries.”

On paper, the easiest part of the UK’s renegotiation agenda relates to further single market liberalisation, less red tape and more free trade. The question here seems to be more about what Cameron can achieve on top of what is already happening. Furthermore, some EU countries have reservations over specific issues. Germany remains reluctant to open up its professional services, for instance, while France’s support for TTIP – the EU-US free trade deal – is not unconditional. While EU leaders may talk a good game in this area, the reality may be different.

Our scorecard suggests that, along with Denmark, Ireland will be the most helpful country throughout the renegotiation, as it would be the most negatively affected by a Brexit. Open Europe research showed that, if the UK were to leave the EU, Ireland could see a permanent loss to GDP of between 1.1% and 3.1% in 2030 – under a best-case and a worst-case scenario respectively.

The Netherlands is also broadly supportive of Cameron’s EU reform agenda. However, the Dutch government remains suspicious of further integration at the Eurozone-only level  and could therefore take a more cautious approach on safeguards for euro ‘outs’ – as it would prefer a more devolved EU but at the level of EU-28.

At the opposite end, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain could be among the hardest to deal with. These countries continue to have a particularly strong emotional attachment to European integration, and tend to view with scepticism any proposal that is perceived as going in the opposite direction to ‘ever closer union’.

Some objections will matter more than others. Some issues on the UK’s renegotiation agenda will be subject to majority voting – meaning that the views of the big states will carry more weight. For some others, unanimity could be needed – meaning that each EU member state would have a veto, giving smaller countries an important role. Much will also depend on the specific technical approaches used – some states are unwilling to consider Treaty change while there may also be varying interpretations over what is possible under the current EU Treaties. We have not considered this in detail as it will only become clear once the UK has tabled more detailed demands.

Methodological note

This analysis is Open Europe’s own assessment of where things stand based on public pronouncements by EU states, our in-depth research and private discussions with officials from around Europe. It is a qualitative assessment and an attempt to shed some light on where other states stand ahead of the crucial deepening of the negotiations. You can find a more detailed methodology in the full paper.

If you cannot see the PDF reader below, please click here to access the full report.

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