18 December 2015

Merkel raises prospect of EU Treaty change at later stage to accommodate UK demands

At her press conference following yesterday’s meeting of EU leaders in Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “If we need Treaty change, and I believe that could be the case, then we all understand that this does not have to take place now, but as per the British proposal it could take place later at the next available opportunity. Members of the Eurozone also reacted very positively to the UK’s assurance that, in exchange, it would not object to intensified cooperation within the Eurozone. This was a very positive communication.” “We need to see a Treaty change that we deposit for the future as one that we have to agree now”, she added.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters, “I would say today what has happened is we have taken a big step to a better deal for Britain but there is still a lot of hard work to be done.” On the legal aspects of his reform proposals, Cameron said, “If Treaty change is necessary, and I believe it is, there should be a way to deliver that Treaty change…The European Commission said that they believed there were solutions – not compromises, solutions.” He dismissed suggestions that he had dropped plans to deny EU migrants access to in-work benefits during the first four years, saying, “I haven’t put any other proposals on the table – I have put my four-year proposal on the table and it remains on the table.” Cameron also denied discussing the timing of the EU referendum over dinner with other EU leaders, after French President François Hollande appeared to suggest Cameron’s preference was to hold the referendum in mid-2016.

European Council President Donald Tusk said, “I’m much more optimistic today than before our meeting…No-one, including David Cameron, is ready to accept discrimination. This is unacceptable, and for sure this is not the intention of our British partner.”

Hollande said after the meeting, “The spirit [of the talks] was open, provided that we are clear about what is acceptable and what will not be admissible with regard to European rules…I’m absolutely ready on behalf of France, and many [EU leaders] have expressed the same point of view, to facilitate through some adjustments what [David Cameron] could present to the British as a way to take into account the specificity of their country. But it should not be the case that, in order to move in this direction…we can weaken the principles of the European construction.”

Open Europe’s Stephen Booth appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme and said that the ‘mood music’ from other EU leaders after the UK discussions was broadly positive. He noted Chancellor Merkel’s raising the prospect of future treaty change as significant but said that it’s clear that David Cameron needs to secure significant reforms, including on migration, for any package to be credible in the referendum campaign. Open Europe’s Raoul Ruparel appeared on BBC News yesterday discussing possible outcomes of the EU summit, particularly with regard to the issue of EU migrants’ access to welfare.

Source: BBC Radio 4: Today The Financial Times BBC Le Monde

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Süddeutsche: Cameron’s EU reform wishes are achievable because the tone is right

Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Foreign Affairs Editor Stefan Kornelius writes that “suddenly the British [EU reform] proposals don’t seem unrealisable anymore. Because everyone knows an exit [of the UK from the EU] would be worse for Europe than all previous crises.” He also argues that “Cameron’s reform wishes are achievable because the tone is right”, suggesting that “the British government learnt the most important of all lessons in Europe: the EU only works if everyone benefits from it.”

Source: Süddeutsche Zeitung: Kornelius

UK Government changes tune on immigration data following accusations of a cover-up

Following a Freedom of Information request from Jonathan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research on the level of active national insurance numbers for EU migrants, HMRC acknowledged that it had the data but refused to release it saying it might be “unhelpful” to the Government’s current negotiation with the EU.

This prompted suggestions that the Government was trying to hide the data, which many fear could show levels of migration are higher than other officials statistics suggest. The Government said that its initial response was “wrong”, adding, “Not all the information that has been requested is held by HMRC. The information that is held is not in a collated, publishable form. HMRC will release that data when it is properly collated early in the New Year.”

Source: National Institute of Economic and Social Research The Daily Telegraph

Corbyn says he opposes waiting periods for EU migrants’ access to welfare

In a move which appeared to be at odds with Andy Burnham, the shadow Home Secretary, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn disputed his party’s policy of demanding a two-year ban on EU migrants receiving in-work benefits. “If someone is working, paying taxes like anyone else, he should have access to the same benefits as everyone else”, Corbyn said. Labour said in its manifesto for the General Election in May that there should be a two-year ban on EU migrants receiving benefits.

At a meeting of centre-left leaders in Brussels, Corbyn also indicated that he would try to play a positive role in the debate by pushing social and working rights in the referendum campaign, adding that “there are EU laws making it difficult or illegal to intervene in industries like the steel industry.”

Source: Politico The Daily Telegraph The Guardian

Carswell calls on ‘fresh face’ to transform UKIP into “socially liberal, unapologetically free market party”

UKIP’s only MP Douglas Carswell has told the BBC that his party needs a “fresh face” as leader, with “an optimistic message” for the future. Party leader Nigel Farage said Carswell should “put up or shut up.” Carswell told BBC Essex the party had been “phenomenally successful” to be polling about 13% during Farage’s tenure, but added, if it is to “break out from the 13%” it had to become an “optimistic, sunshine, smiley, socially liberal, unapologetically free market party.”

Source: BBC News

EU summit makes little progress on tackling migration crisis

EU leaders yesterday discussed the European Commission proposal for the creation of an EU border force empowered to overrule national governments when the EU’s external frontiers are deemed to be inadequately secured. The proposal won the backing of the majority of member states, notably including Germany and France. Hungary, Malta and Poland were more cautious, however, and Greece insisted that any upgraded border force should not compromise national sovereignty. EU leaders set a six-month deadline to agree on the details of the proposal. Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe was interviewed by Polish news agency PAP discussing the plans for an EU border force.

Separately, a pre-EU summit meeting between a smaller group of EU leaders and the Turkish Prime Minister took place yesterday to discuss the proposed refugee resettlement plan, but yielded little in terms of concrete results.

Source: The Guardian The Wall Street Journal PAP: Cleppe

Juncker’s top aide under fire over misleading refugee statistics

Politico reports that Martin Selmayr, Chief of Staff to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, has come under fire for using misleading statistics on the flow of refugees from Turkey to the EU. Selmayr wrote a letter to drum up support for further cooperation with Turkey, suggesting that weekly flows of refugees had fallen from 52,249 in late October to 9,093 last week. However, internal Commission documents seen by Politico suggest the number had actually only fallen to 27,069. The report from which Selmayr took the data even warned that the numbers might be unreliable and that it is too early to draw conclusions. Fabrice Leggeri, the head of EU border agency Frontex, has warned against using the weekly figures which he says are “not accurate”.

Source: Politico

EU trade negotiator hits out at Japan’s reluctance to open its markets to European food and drinks

Reuters reports that Mauro Petriccione, the EU’s lead negotiator in its ongoing free trade talks with Japan, said yesterday, “If we don’t make it in 2016, we will have to explain why, and we cannot exclude a resurgence of the scepticism toward the possibility of an EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement that we had before we started.”

Petriccione expressed frustration at one major sticking point – Japan’s resistance to EU demands that it open up its markets to European food and drinks. He noted that Japan “starts from the point of view that anything that could upset the status quo in agriculture is inherently dangerous. If you start from the notion that you should not upset the status quo, you should not negotiate.”

Source: Reuters Bloomberg

Spanish PM open to grand coalition with Socialist Party ahead of uncertain election

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would consider a grand coalition with the Socialist Party if he failed to win an outright majority in the general election that will take place on Sunday – according to sources from Rajoy’s party cited by El Mundo. However, Rajoy reportedly wants Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez to quit as a pre-condition for a deal.

Open Europe’s Raoul Ruparel and Vincenzo Scarpetta this morning appeared on Bloomberg and CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe show respectively – both discussing the key issues at stake in this uncertain Spanish general election.

Source: Open Europe Blog Bloomberg: Ruparel CNBC: Scarpetta El Mundo

EU agrees rebate for UK steel industry over cost of energy

It was announced yesterday that the EU has agreed to allow a rebate for the UK steel sector on the cost of energy (via green taxes), which the Government has said is worth up to £380m per year.

Source: The Financial Times