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06/12/2016

France: No ‘new’ negotiations at Brexit summit

UK & Europe

France: No ‘new’ negotiations at Brexit summit

French President Francois Hollande on Wednesday said there should be no further changes to proposed reforms to keep Britain in the EU when the plan is discussed at a summit in Brussels in two weeks.

“We want the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union. The compromise that has been found will likely allow us to find solutions to problems that until now seemed difficult to resolve. But at the European Council (summit), there can be no new adjustments … (or) new negotiations,” Hollande told reporters after a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo.

The proposals unveiled by European Council President Donald Tusk to avoid a ‘Brexit’ notably include a so-called “emergency brake” (although EU officials prefer the term “safeguard mechanism”) that would allow an EU state to limit the welfare payments that migrants from other European countries can claim for up to four years after their arrival.

The plan also includes a “mechanism” by which the nine countries that are not in the euro – including Britain – can raise concerns about decisions by eurozone nations, though Tusk has sought to reassure countries such as France this would not amount to giving non-euro states a final say on such matters.

“We have reached a point that should give Britons the reassurances needed while respecting European principles,” Hollande said in the statement.

But he reiterated there “can be no veto by countries outside the eurozone” on eurozone policies.

>>Read: Obama phones Cameron: ‘Stay in EU’

The proposed deal will be presented to all 28 EU leaders during a crunch February 18-19 summit in Brussels.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said Tusk’s plans showed “real progress” and made it likely that he would campaign to stay in the EU in a referendum expected in June.

EU’s Tusk to caution Britain’s Cameron on Thur on risks to EU deal

Meanwhile, an EU official said on Wednesday that the European council president, Donald Tusk, is likely to tell Cameron that the EU offer to freeze in-work benefits for migrants could unravel if other countries demand the same.

Tusk will travel to London on Thursday for a donor conference on Syria and will meet Cameron separately to take stock of reactions to the EU proposal.

“One of the messages that I expect Tusk will send to Cameron is that in social benefits the risk comes not only from the concerns of central European countries about their workers in Britain, but also from countries that are maybe in a similar situation as Britain, that are also receiving workers from other EU countries, that might be tempted to seek similar solutions,” the EU official said.

“It would unravel the British deal, really, because the basic assumption is that this is a proposal for the UK,” the official said.

The EU offered to allow Britain to freeze in-work benefits for migrant EU workers – notably from Poland – for up to four years in recognition of the large number who have come to Britain over a long period.

The deal also linked child benefits to living costs in the country where the worker’s children reside, which means smaller pay-outs for workers from Eastern Europe.

The deal has yet to be approved by all 28 governments of the EU and is far from sealed, officials said.

“The child benefit is different, it is for everybody,” the EU official said. “When it comes to the in-work benefits, it is quite clear that the deal talks about a significant inflow over an extended period of time, which the UK has experienced.”

>>Read: How to interpret Cameron’s renegotiation strategy

Yesterday (3 February) in the House of Commons, Cameron was forced to defend the draft deal before sceptical members of his own party.

“Let’s fight this together,” Cameron told MPs. The reforms add up to “the strongest package we’ve ever had,” he insisted.

“I do believe that with these draft texts and with all the work we’ve done with our European partners, Britain is getting closer to the decision point,” stressed the prime minister.

The proposals were criticised by a close political ally of the British leader – London’s flamboyant Mayor Boris Johnson.

“The prime minister is making the best of a bad job,” Johnson, who opponents of Britain’s EU membership hope will head up their campaign, told Sky News. “We’ve got a lot more to do on this.”

Former defence secretary Liam Fox warned that up to five members of Cameron’s cabinet could campaign to leave the union after seeing the proposals.

The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, reiterated his party’s support for Britain to stay in the bloc and said the debate was a “Tory party drama.”

Cameron now begins a charm offensive that will take him to Poland and Denmark on Friday then Germany next week.

Cameron did not offer a timing for the vote, but said it would not be staged within six weeks of regional elections on May 5 – something that leaves open the date of June 23 which has been mooted in the press.

Background

British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union. The renegotiation will be followed by a referendum by the end of 2017, to decide whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the EU.

If he achieves the reforms, Cameron will campaign to stay in. Otherwise, the Conservatives might campaign to leave the EU. This decision could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and Great Britain's position on the international scene.

Some other European countries are ready to listen to Cameron's concerns on issues such as immigration, and may be prepared to make limited concessions to keep Britain in the bloc.

But EU leaders also have their red lines, and have ruled out changing fundamental EU principles, such as the free movement of workers, and a ban on discriminating between workers from different EU states.

>>Read our LinksDossier: The UK's EU referendum: On the path to Brexit?

Timeline

  • Jan. 2013: David Cameron's Bloomberg speech promising an EU referendum

  • 7 May 2015: UK general election returns a majority Conservative government

  • 18-19 February 2016: Crunch EU summit on Brexit

  • 23 June 2016: Rumoured favourite date for referendum

  • End of 2017: Final deadline for holding the UK referendum