3 February 2016

Tusk tables draft deal for the UK as May hints she will back remaining in the EU

European Council President Donald Tusk yesterday tabled his proposed deal as part of the UK’s renegotiation. On economic governance the deal lays out a set of principles aimed at protecting the rights of non-Eurozone states. It also includes a mechanism to enforce said principles, whereby if a (yet to be defined) number of non-Euro states object to a piece of legislation there will be a fresh discussion and a push for consensus, though the legislation will not be halted permanently. The proposal recommits the EU to push ahead with improving the single market, striking free trade deals and reducing the burden of regulation.

It also confirms that the UK is “not committed to further political integration” and that the EU Treaties provide for “different paths” of integration that “do not compel all member states to aim for a common destination.” The UK has been given an emergency brake on EU migrants’ access to in-work benefits, which the Commission has confirmed would be triggered immediately after the referendum – pending approval of changes to legislation by the European Parliament. The brake will limit access to benefits for four years, though this will be graduated over the period. It will apply to new entrants for a number of years though the exact number is yet to be confirmed. The deal will now be discussed amongst all EU states and could yet change.

Home Secretary Theresa May said, “We have made progress and negotiations continue ahead of the February [European] Council. As the Prime Minister has said, more work needs to be done, but this is a basis for a deal.” Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told Italian daily La Stampa in an interview that Tusk’s draft is “good”, but “one needs to put some flesh on the bones…Defining the details will be the real job in the coming weeks…I’m interested in a good deal, it’s better than a quick deal.” Nick Herbert MP, who leads the Conservatives for Reform in Europe group, said he expected the majority of the party to back remaining in a reformed EU. The Daily Telegraph publishes a letter signed by 15 Conservative MPs supporting the renegotiation, noting that it addresses key concerns about the EU.

However, the deal was rejected out of hand by a number of other Conservative MPs. Maria Caulfield MP said on BBC Newsnight, “The deal I’ve seen today is not enough to convince me to stay in the EU.” Meanwhile, former Defence Secretary Liam Fox has said he is certain four or five cabinet ministers will back leaving the EU. Writing in the New Statesman, former Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna argues that “while the reforms are hardly earth-shattering, they are substantial and will make our membership of the EU that bit more attractive.”

Source: The Financial Times The Independent The Daily Mail The Times La Stampa: Hammond The Guardian New Statesman: Umunna

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Proposed UK-EU deal gets mixed welcome from European politicians

Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said the proposal tabled by European Council President Donald Tusk is “a very important step in the current negotiations and represents positive progress”, while adding that the Irish government will analyse it carefully. Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told the European Parliament this morning that Tusk’s proposal “paves the way for an agreement in the European Council. I am sure a solution can be found.” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told MEPs this morning, “The settlement recognises that, if the UK considers that it is now at its limit of intergration, then that’s fine…In this way, we have addressed the Prime Minister’s concern while respecting the [EU] Treaties.”

Belgian MEP Sander Loones, who sits with the UK Conservatives in the ECR group and is a member of the moderate Flemish nationalist N-VA, Belgium’s largest biggest governing party, said, “Just like the British, the N-VA wants a more efficient EU”, and added that “the British are an important trading partner.”

Polish President Andrzej Duda told TVP, “The [UK-EU] deal can be evaluated in different ways. I would like to underline one thing: it is a preliminary deal and it will be subject to proper negotiations”. He added that Poland will want to see further details of how the emergency brake on access to benefits would work in practice, but also stressed that “The deal includes important elements regarding strengthening sovereignty.”

Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb tweeted, “[Tusk] tabled a reasonable proposal on UK-EU relations.” The country’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä said Finland “can live with” the concessions made to the UK.

Ulla Tørnæs, a spokeswoman for the Danish government, welcomed the proposal for an ‘emergency brake’ on EU migrants’ access to benefits, arguing, “If the emergency brake is activated, there will be an accrual system [for benefits] as we know it today in Denmark. That is a very balanced approached to things in which we ensure the continued free movement of labour, which is essential for Danish business, while also being able to stop [the benefit payments] if the intake becomes too large.”

However, Portuguese Interior Minister Constança Urbano e Sousa told Diário Económico, “The Portuguese government firmly rejects any measure that breaches the EU’s fundamental principle of non-discrimination of European workers based on nationality. Therefore, any demand in this regard is unacceptable.” Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Antanas Linkevičius said Tusk’s proposal was “positive”, but added, “If it smells of discrimination, then definitely it’s not good.”


German press reaction to draft deal: “Cameron is putting into action what other EU states want”

Tanit Koch, Bild’s Editor in Chief, writes that “Germany can be thankful for British Prime Minister David Cameron’s push to reform rules around EU migrants’ access to social benefits.” She adds “Germany cannot afford a Brexit!… The EU would miss a self-confident sceptical nation whose democracy is much older than European bureaucracy. An EU without Great Britain would be poorer geopolitically, economically and above all: spiritually.” Meanwhile, Ruth Berschens, the Brussels Editor of German Financial Daily Handelsblatt, writes that “Cameron is putting into action what other EU states want” on reforming access to national welfare systems. “Cameron is running into welcoming arms in other capitals, including Berlin,” she writes, “It’s true that an increasing number of migrants from the EU’s poorer member states… find loopholes to cash in on social benefits.”

Stefan Kornelius, Foreign Editor of the Süddeutsche Zeitung writes, “The reform proposal of Brussels is moderate. It might throw some unshakable EU-enthusiasts off their feet, but it very realistically reflects the state of the community.  Internal migration – in moderation and not to be abused; Eurozone – if you please, but to no detriment to others; the participation of national parliaments – of course, but under a mechanism that’s barely used; and ever more Europe – a symbolic goal, which is just unrealistic.”


Proposed deal met with scepticism by UK press

The Daily Mail runs with headline “the great delusion” and the paper’s leader argues “hardly anything in this deal will do one iota to stop mass immigration from inside or outside the EU.” The Sun labels the renegotiation a “dismal failure” and a “steaming pile of manure”. The Financial Times calls it a “reasonable deal to keep Britain in Europe”, noting, “The agreement to exempt Britain from ‘ever closer union’ may seem like symbolism but it provides reassurance that the UK is not on a train it didn’t want to join.” The Times leader says “the document promises little of substance” and argues “David Cameron should listen to Boris Johnson and extract more concessions on migration and sovereignty.” The Daily Telegraph’s leader says the “the current process echoes that of 1975”, but argues that “details of this settlement are unlikely to decide the outcome of the referendum”. It adds that in his speech yesterday Cameron “demonstrated what a formidable opponent he will be for the Outers” and that they must rise to the challenge but to do so they need to secure a “big beast to champion their cause.


End to Schengen would cost Europe €110bn French think tank warns

A permanent return to border controls within the Schengen area would cost €110bn over the next decade, France Strategie, a think tank directly attached to the French Prime Minister’s office has estimated. The drop in cross-border tourism and trade by ending the free-travel area would cost Europe 0.8% of economic output over the period – with a loss of €10bn to France alone.

Meanwhile, Spiegel Online reports that German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière wants to extend border controls, which have been in place in Germany since September, for an “indefinite period” when they are due to expire on 13 February. The German Cabinet is today expected to adopt the highly controversial ‘Asylum Package II’ – a package of reforms to reduce and control the influx of migrants and asylum seekers into the country.

Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe writes for Dutch daily De Volkskrant that a proposal by Belgian Migration Secretary Theo Francken to make it mandatory for asylum seekers to apply for asylum in ‘hotspots’ in Greece should be considered, arguing, “A similar policy in Australia has put an end to people drowning at sea.” He adds, however, that “the EU shouldn’t copy the bad conditions in Australia’s off-shore processing centres.”


Spanish Socialist leader faces uphill struggle as he is asked to try and form government

King Felipe VI of Spain yesterday asked Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez to try and form a new government, after acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy reiterated that he currently lacks the necessary support in parliament. Sánchez has said he will need “between three weeks and one month” to negotiate a coalition deal, meaning that he will not face a confidence vote in parliament until late February at the earliest. Meanwhile, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias warned yesterday that a government pact including both his party and the centrist Ciudadanos is “impossible”.


EU and US reach breakthrough in data protection talks

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US and EU yesterday reached an agreement on a new data protection regime for  companies that move personal information from Europe to the US after American negotiators agreed to provide binding written assurances that personal information about Europeans wouldn’t be subject to bulk surveillance when it is copied on to US servers. The agreement under the name of Privacy Shield, also includes a promise by US Secretary of State John Kerry to establish a government ombudsman to follow up on any complaints from European citizens about potential privacy breaches.


Open Europe responds to proposed EU Reform package

Open Europe’s response to the proposed UK-EU reform package sets out the key perceived strengths and weaknesses of the elements of the draft deal. The response reserves judgement until the final agreement is reached (this is far from being guaranteed as the final deal). But the initial verdict is that “based on this proposal the change secured from the renegotiation is likely to be a step in the right direction but unlikely to be transformative.”

Open Europe’s Stephen Booth appeared on BBC Newsnight to discuss the proposed UK-EU package. He argued that, while the measures to strengthen national parliaments are largely a symbolic victory, the proposals on migration and welfare are significant because they greatly improve the fairness of the system by ensuring new arrivals from the EU only gain access to welfare after making an economic contribution. Meanwhile, Raoul Ruparel appeared on Sky News and Nina Schick appeared on German national broadcaster ZDF’s Heute Journal and Al Jazeera English arguing that Cameron is now “speaking to the undecided,” as he “has to get the swing vote behind him to win.” Vincenzo Scarpetta appeared on Spanish national radio RNE discussing the proposed deal, while Pawel Swidlicki is quoted  by The Polish Press Agency. The Times features Open Europe’s ‘EU Reform heat-map’ showing how other EU member states are likely to react to UK demands and Open Europe is quoted by AFP and EUobserver.

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