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In a speech marking the delivery of his formal letter to European Council President Donald Tusk today, Prime Minister David Cameron set out his five key EU reform demands. These consist of an exemption from the commitment to “ever-closer union”, safeguards for the UK and other non-euro member states from Eurozone integration, greater powers for national parliaments to group together to block new EU laws, a more competitive EU and a four-year restriction on new EU migrants claiming UK benefits. Cameron argued that changing the UK’s relationship with Brussels was not “Mission Impossible”, and that, “If and when we do so…I will campaign to keep Britain inside a reformed EU”, adding that “we don’t need to be a marginalised voice in Europe or an isolated voice outside.” However, he also warned that “if Britain’s concerns were to be met with a deaf ear…then we will have to think again about whether this EU is right for us.”
The Times reports that, according to new data from the Department of Work and Pensions released to coincide with David Cameron’s EU renegotiation speech, 43% of new EU migrants (excluding students) rely on the support of the UK benefits system during their first four years in the country – 224,000 out of 526,000 people. Around 66% of these receive tax credits, housing benefit and other forms of in-work benefits which works out at around £5,000 per family or £530m overall in 2013. Under the government’s proposed changes to EU rules, none of these migrants would be allowed to claim benefits for the first four years.
Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that if Cameron is unable to negotiate his demands for the four-year qualification period with other EU leaders, the government could opt to introduce a four year residency test which would mean that no EU citizen could claim in-work benefits until they have lived in the UK for four years and no UK citizen could claim in-work benefits until four years into adulthood.
Open Europe Intelligence
At an emergency summit in Brussels, EU interior ministers yesterday proposed to set up refugee-processing centres in the Western Balkans, and ensure that ‘hotspots’ to process asylum claims in Italy and Greece are operational by the end of November. The ministers also debated the EU’s refugee relocation scheme, under which only 135 asylum seekers of 160,000 have so far been relocated.
Meanwhile, Handelsblatt reports that Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU party has thrown its support behind Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière’s proposal to freeze family reunification for Syrian refugees in Germany, with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble saying, “We have about seven billion people in the world, if they all want to come to Europe, Europe must be able to say, ‘No thank you, it’s a bit too much’.”
The EU’s spending watchdog, the European Court of Auditors, has found that last year’s annual EU budget of €142.5bn was “materially affected by error”, with an estimated error rate – that is, spending not in accordance with the EU’s own rules – of 4.4%. The ECA therefore gave “an adverse opinion on [EU payments’] legality and regularity.” The Times reports that this is the 21st year in a row that the ECA has failed to give the EU budget a clean bill of health.
A new INSA poll for Bild puts Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) on a record-high 10%, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance fell by 1.5 percentage points to 34%. The poll has Merkel’s junior coalition partner SPD on 24%, Die Linke on 11%, the Greens on 10%, and the FDP on 6%. Bild quotes the head of the INSA polling company as saying, “We are experiencing a serious mood swing due to the refugee crisis. The AfD and FDP benefit from the weakness of the [CDU/CSU].”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
The Conciliation Committee composed of negotiators from the European Parliament and member states to try to strike a compromise on the 2016 EU budget met for the first time yesterday. Member states proposed that new EU spending should be limited to €142.1bn but the European Parliament has proposed a figure of €146.5bn, which would take it over the annual limit imposed by the seven-year long-term budget (MFF). In a press release, the Council of Ministers which represents national governments criticised the European Parliament for not reducing its own costs, noting that “the Council’s personnel would be cut by 4.5% and the Commission’s by 4% by the end of 2016… By contrast, the Parliament’s staff would increase by 0.4% over the same period.”
A leaked letter from Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, published by Ecologist magazine, reveals that the UK is set to fall short of its EU target to source 15% of energy from renewable sources by 2020. Despite internal forecasts that the UK will miss the target by 23%, the letter said that publically the government was clear the UK continues to make progress to meet the target. Rudd has told parliament that the UK is “on course” to meet its renewable targets.
Open Europe Intelligence
At yesterday’s Eurogroup meeting, Eurozone finance ministers decided to delay the disbursement of a €2bn tranche of Greece’s third bailout due to persistent disagreement over the treatment of bad loans at Greek banks. The Eurogroup urged Greece to finalise the reforms needed to unlock the bailout payment “in the course of the week”. Open Europe’s Raoul Ruparel is quoted by Agence France Press as saying that the delay means the far more sensitive discussion over Greek debt relief is also likely to be pushed back.
The Financial Times
Agence France Presse
Roberto Perotti, the Italian government’s special commissioner in charge of public spending reform, has resigned. “I didn’t feel very useful at this stage”, he told Italian public broadcaster Rai Tre yesterday. Perotti was appointed earlier this year to replace Carlo Cottarelli, who had also decided to quit the post and return to the IMF.
Rai News 24
Open Europe’s ‘EU reform heat-map’ showing how other EU member states might react to David Cameron’s main EU reform demands continues to draw widespread coverage. Open Europe’s Vincenzo Scarpetta appeared on BBC Two Scotland’s Scotland 2015 show yesterday, arguing, “Our exercise shows that the renegotiation is not going to be easy, but all is still to play for. The vast majority of EU countries are open-minded vis-à-vis the UK’s reform agenda.” The programme also reproduced Open Europe’s maps. Furthermore, the ‘heat-map’ was cited by Sky News’s Senior Political Correspondent Jason Farrell, as well as by Spain’s national radio RNE and main news agency EFE. Open Europe’s Pawel Swidlicki is quoted by Agence France Presse and appeared on BBC London this morning discussing Cameron’s EU renegotiation strategy and his chance of success.