quarta-feira, 27 de janeiro de 2016
Cameron closes in on EU reform deal
Cameron closes in on EU reform deal
Diplomats thrashing out the details on controversial benefits ban proposal.
By TARA PALMERI 1/27/16, 10:30 PM CET
David Cameron’s plan for reforming the U.K.’s relationship with the EU is close to completion, with political consensus among the bloc’s countries on three of his four demands, EU diplomats told POLITICO. But the fourth demand — a controversial plan to curb benefits for EU migrants — remains a sticking point.
Breaking the deadlock on that final piece prompted Cameron to cancel meetings with the leaders of Denmark and Sweden on Friday and schedule talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
A blanket four-year ban on in-work benefits for EU migrants has been deemed incompatible with the EU treaties and the concept of freedom of movement within the single market, according to an EU diplomat involved in the negotiations.
In an effort to find a solution without changing the treaties, legal teams from the European Council, Commission and Whitehall in London have been discussing the use of an “emergency brake” mechanism that would activate the four-year ban if the U.K. could prove its public services were under strain because of an influx of migrants.
“The four-year [ban] remains on the table, but the prime minister has said that he’s open to alternative options that would be equally effective,” said a spokesperson for the British government.
However, the threshold at which the emergency brake mechanism would be activated is still being negotiated, with time running out before Monday, when European Council President Donald Tusk is due to distribute a draft of the British demands to the other 27 member countries ahead of a European Council summit on February 18.
The emergency brake — dubbed an “indirect measure,” as it wouldn’t ban migrants but seek to remove the incentives for them moving to the U.K. — would technically be available to all member countries but would be crafted for the British, according to an EU diplomat close to the negotiations.
Another suggestion — put forward by Germany but less popular elsewhere — is to redefine workers’ rights.
Using European Court of Justice rulings that allowed states to withhold benefits from people without jobs, negotiators are looking into ways to expand such bans to those who work for only a few hours. The debate on the number of hours involved continues, but the goal is to present an option on Monday so that the talks can move along quickly.
Cameron is keen to hold the In/Out referendum on the U.K.’s membership of the EU in June. In order to do that he would need an agreement on EU reforms by February or March.
“What we got from the December Council is that Cameron wants us to go as fast as possible and it’s in the interest of the Union to do that,” said the EU diplomat. “If they want to meet a February deadline it’s important to have a strong text.” The diplomat added that the plan was to remove as many brackets as possible from the text, as they are seen as weakening the demands.
The devil is in the details
As the deadline for Tusk to distribute the text draws near, the focus has been on the migration issue and filling in some of the details of the other three areas of reform, according to the source who is close to the negotiations.
To appease Cameron on national sovereignty, the text will call for votes in national parliaments to be strengthened using a flag system. National capitals could wave a green flag to propose an initiative, a yellow flag to ask for an amendment, or a red flag to stop a discussion. The fine print is still being worked on.
Another Cameron demand, clarifying the meaning of the phrase “ever closer union” in the Lisbon Treaty, has been dubbed merely “a drafting matter” by officials involved in the negotiations, to make it clear that the phrase does not have to apply to all member countries and is not a legal formula for further integration.
To address Cameron’s concern about the rights of EU countries that are not members of the eurozone, various principles spelling out their rights will be drafted, according to two sources close to the negotiations.
These include: non-euro members will not be discriminated against in decision making; the single market will be preserved even if there is further eurozone integration; national competence will be ensured; non-eurozone countries will not pay for operations involving the common currency; banking union rules will not apply to non-eurozone countries.
“We would need to have a solution which clarifies and concerns the roles of the eurozone ‘Ins’ making decisions on behalf of the others,” said another EU diplomat.
Spokespeople for the Commission did not respond to a request for comment.
Brexit crunch time
After Tusk presents the draft early next week, sherpas from each member country will finesse the draft over two meetings in the next two weeks in preparation for the Council meeting.
Ivan Rogers, the U.K.’s ambassador to the EU, will on Tuesday brief MEPs from the largest political grouping, the European People’s Party, on the British reform proposals.
Cameron’s sherpa, Tom Scholar, will continue shuttling back and forth between London and Brussels in the run up to the Council, the source said.