Weber: ‘The British government must remain realistic’

Manfred Weber [EP]

David Cameron should not overburden negotiations with EU partners with unattainable demands, says the head of the  EPP Group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber. Discrimination against EU citizens in the United Kingdom would be a “red line” the CSU politician told Tagesspiegel.

Manfred Weber (Christian Social Union) has served as chair of the European People’s Party (EPP) Group in the European Parliament since 2014.

He spoke with Tagesspiegel’s Albrecht Meier.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is not happy with the EU status quo and is therefore aiming for EU treaty reform. Do you think reform of that kind is possible?

Whether or not a treaty amendment is really needed now, can only be determined once the British have put their wishes on the table. The ball is in London’s court. They must define what changes are desired. There are issue areas in which reforms are possible without a treaty amendment. Other reforms would require changes to the EU Treaties.

German Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande are now seeking to deepen cooperation in economic, social and tax policy in the eurozone – but without a treaty amendment. How is that supposed to mesh with British wishes?

Right now, we are arriving at a situation in which we must once again discuss the foundations of the European Union. We know that we need a deepening of the monetary union to keep it weatherproof in the long-term. On the other hand, the UK wants to renegotiate its relationship with the EU. It makes sense to discuss the changes that should be made to the foundations of Europe together. We should begin with the points that we can tackle within the existing treaty framework. But in the medium-term, a debate over treaty changes should not be taboo.

Apparently Cameron wants to require non-British EU citizens to wait 4 years until they can receive certain social services. Does he deserve support in this?

If the British treat EU citizens and British citizens differently, it is not compatible with the existing treaties. That would be crossing a red line. The British government must remain realistic – it should not make any demands that the European partners cannot fulfill. But on the other hand, the UK should also sense that Europe as a whole is ready to build a great many bridges. Many British demands should not only be seen as problems but also as opportunities.

Can you give an example?

Europe must deal with the big challenges and avoid focusing on small bureaucratic details. The Brits are right to call for an end to interference with everyday details. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is already working on this agenda. The second big issue is migration. Indeed, it cannot be that the freedom of movement within the EU is used as a means of abusing the social welfare system. We need legal clarification in the EU because there are varying court cases on the interpretation of freedom of movement in Europe. In the EPP’s view, British pressure to clear up this issue is welcome.

What do you think of reports from London indicating symbolic demands – such as striking the formulation “ever closer union” in the EU Treaty?

During my discussions in London on Thursday and Friday, I will attempt to explain what we understand the “ever closer union” to mean. In this way, after centuries of war in Europe, we indicate our strong belief: People in Europe feel as one and seem to be closer and closer together. The formulation does not stipulate that more and more competences must be transferred to Europe. The British parliament can block every move to deepen the Union in the future.

Cameron is likely to demand removal of the passage describing a “common EU currency” for the euro.

The United Kingdom has an opt-out of the euro that is guaranteed by the treaties. That is why, from a British perspective, the facts are already clear.

Cameron is aiming for an earlier referendum. It is likely to take place as early as 2016. What do you think of that?

The faster we can clear up the issue of British membership, the better. Right now we cannot afford years of tug-of-war, during which Europe only deals with the question of whether the UK will stay or not.

Is there a risk that the Brits could vote “No” to the EU because Cameron conjured up excessively high expectations and a new design for relations to the European Union?

The results of the lower house elections have left Prime Minister Cameron going strong. Now he can lead. He must also develop an image on how he sees the UK in the coming decades. At the centre is a federalisation. And on the outside there is the question over whether it will stay a part of Europe. And Cameron has to answer this fundamental question, over where the UK sees itself, for himself and for his country and then convince voters of his recommendation. I hope the campaign before the referendum will not only be limited to individual aspects such as migration, but will also keep the big picture in mind.

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