Prime Minister David Cameron will seek to secure the support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for his EU reforms plans in a crucial bilateral meeting in London today (7 January) that coincides with the beginning of the UK election campaign.
The EU is set to be a dominant theme in the campaign leading to elections on 7 May, following the rise in popularity of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) who want Britain to withdraw from the EU, and who achieved 27.5% of the UK votes cast in last year’s European elections.
Officials admitted yesterday that EU reform issues would creep into the agenda of the bilateral meeting, originally planned to discuss the upcoming G7 meeting in Berlin in June, and as an opportunity for Merkel to visit a landmark British Museum exhibition on Germany.
Cameron has promised an in-out referendum on UK membership of the EU if he wins the general election in May. He has said he will campaign to stay in the Union, but only if substantial reforms are made to EU institutions.
Key areas for reform earmarked by Cameron include more power for national governments to veto EU legislation (the so called ‘red-card’ principle), changes to the way EU migrants receive national benefits, and protection for non-eurozone countries in the governance of the single market.
It is unclear how many member states’ parliaments could be required to block EU legislation under a Red-card scheme. French President François Hollande has repeatedly voiced objections to ‘a la carte’ EU membership.
Migration issues remain highly controversial, since Cameron’s desire to stem migration within the bloc would breach the fundamental treaty right of freedom of movement.
Speaking to the BBC yesterday (7 January) Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rink?vi?s said there is scope for the UK to achieve its ends on curbing welfare benefits abuses by migrants using domestic legislation and without breaching the freedom of movement rules.
Cameron is also seeking protection for non-eurozone countries in the governance of the single market.
British government sources believe that the ‘double lock’ established in the Single Supervisory Mechanism (part of the Banking Union) – giving non-eurozone countries weighted rights to object to decisions by their eurozone counterparts – could be applied more broadly to the single market.
The UK Labour Party’s leader in the European Parliament, Glenis Willmott, said Cameron’s courting of UKIP was pushing the UK closer to the EU exit.
“David Cameron’s approach to Europe, pandering to the Eurosceptics in his party and annoying our allies, will not deliver the reform the EU needs. There is a chasm between what his backbenchers demand and what Angela Merkel and other EU leaders will accept,” she said.
Willmott said there was scope “to deliver real reform within the EU that will make it work better, but they need to be constructive proposals around which we can build alliances”.
MEP Steven Woolfe, UKIP’s spokesman on migration, accused Cameron of seeking a way to dress up failure as success.
“He knows he can’t move on EU migration so starts talking about benefits. He has failed his previous promises, and now he asks for nothing and gets nothing.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in London at a time of uncertainty about Britain's future in the EU.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron promised Britons an in/out EU membership referendum if he is re-elected this year.
Merkel told the British parliament last year she was not prepared to promise fundamental reform of the European Union for London's sake, but said the bloc did need some changes and that Britain should not leave it.
The German Chancellor suggested she was ready to go some, but not all the way, to meeting some of Cameron's demands.
Relations between the UK and Germany were soured following Cameron’s failed bid to block the Jean-Claude Juncker from becoming the President of the European Commission.
- May 2015: UK general election
- 2017: Proposed date for UK's referendum on EU membership