terça-feira, 2 de fevereiro de 2016

Cameron’s Brexit Demands Create Fresh EU Dilemma / Tusk ready to deliver UK deal, but migration questions remain / BRUSSELS SKETCH Cameron is just tip of the EU’s problems

Cameron’s Brexit Demands Create Fresh EU Dilemma

No one in Europe wants the U.K. to leave, but allowing the British leader to claim his win is scarcely less destabilizing, Simon Nixon writes

Updated Jan. 31, 2016 10:35 p.m. ET

At some point this week, European Council President Donald Tusk is expected to send a letter to European Union leaders containing the outline of a possible deal with the U.K. over its demand for changes to its terms of EU membership. Although the reforms outlined are likely to be fairly small-scale and technocratic, the political significance of this moment is immense: What is decided in the coming weeks and days will have profound implications for the future of the EU.

In crunch talks in London on Sunday, Mr. Tusk and Prime Minister David Cameron said they failed to reach a draft agreement but would continue talks over the next 24 hours.

From the British perspective, the primary objective of Mr. Tusk’s letter—and any deal that follows from it—is clear: It needs to provide a ladder for Mr. Cameron and many of his colleagues to climb down after years of deriding Britain’s membership in the EU. Mr. Cameron has made it very clear that he will campaign to keep the U.K. in the EU ahead of a referendum that he must hold on the matter by the end of 2017, and the debate in his party and the country appears to be swinging decisively in his favor. Two opinion polls published last week gave the “remain” campaign an 18- and 19-point lead. A maximum of 50 out of 330 Conservative parliamentarians are now considered likely to support a “Brexit,” compared with recent expectations of up to 150.

Meanwhile “leave” campaigners are now in open warfare, unable to agree on who should lead them or even what the alternative to EU membership should be. Many of their arguments have fallen apart under scrutiny, not least the claim that the U.K. could preserve all the advantages of access to the EU’s single market while avoiding any of its obligations, including the need to contribute to the EU budget or accept its principle of the free movement of people. To add to their difficulties, a string of forecasters have warned of the economic risks of exiting the EU—warnings apparently underlined by an alarming slide in sterling that is attributed partly to Brexit risks.

Yet despite the stars apparently aligning for Mr. Cameron, he believes he still needs to be seen to have scored a political win in his negotiations before he can launch his campaign. He staked his political credibility on a rash promise that he could restrict the payment of certain welfare benefits to EU migrants until they had been working in the U.K. for four years. This was a clear breach of the bloc’s principle of nondiscrimination against EU citizens since it amounts to imposing a higher rate of taxation on workers dependent on their nationality. But unless Mr. Cameron can secure something close to what he has proposed, he fears the domestic backlash could tip the referendum toward Brexit.

Therein lies the problem for the rest of the EU. No one in Europe wants the U.K. to leave. Every government agrees a Brexit would have disastrous consequences for the stability and security of the rest of the EU: It would fuel nationalist and populist parties across the continent and raise doubts about the continued membership of other non-eurozone states. It would also rob the EU of one of its most powerful proponents of free markets and an important counterbalance to the power of Germany and France.

On the other hand, allowing Mr. Cameron to claim his major political victory is scarcely less destabilizing: other countries might be tempted to try to carve out their own exemptions to common rules by similarly threatening to bring chaos to the rest of the continent.

There is no guarantee this impasse can be broken, or at least in time for Mr. Cameron to hold the referendum on his preferred date in June. The broad outlines of a possible deal have been cobbled together in discussions involving Brussels, Paris and Rome. One option is to allow Mr. Cameron to restrict welfare for EU migrants, but only on an emergency basis and as a stopgap measure, leaving ambiguous whether the permanent solution will be found in reforms to EU rules or the benefits system. Mr. Cameron’s office said late Sunday that he and Mr. Tusk had made some progress on the issue. But the fine details will have to be agreed by all 28 EU leaders, and no one knows for sure how the smaller countries who have yet to see the whole package—which is also likely to include controversial proposals to exempt the U.K. from the EU’s commitment to ever-closer union and safeguard the U.K.’s interests as the eurozone pursues inevitable deeper integration—will react.

That is why some European governments are insisting that any deal with the British needs to be accompanied by a wider overhaul of how the EU works to head off the risk that other countries demand unilateral concessions. The EU is an association of sovereign states whose survival depends on respect for common rules. But recent crises have laid bare the extent to which the bloc’s integration has left national governments exposed to risks over which they have no control, such as those arising from other member states’ mishandling of the refugee crisis or mismanagement of their economies.

The British debate highlights the challenge in finding long-term answers to these structural problems. Some governments are convinced that the only way to address spillover risks is through deeper integration and greater pooling of sovereignty. But they may struggle to convince others who, like Mr. Cameron, prefer to trust in national solutions.

Corrections & Amplifications:
A maximum of 50 out of 330 Conservative parliamentarians are now considered likely to support a “Brexit.” An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the total number of Conservative lawmakers. Jan. 31

Write to Simon Nixon at simon.nixon@wsj.com

Tusk ready to deliver UK deal, but migration questions remain

European Council president says he will send draft agreement to EU leaders on Tuesday.

By TARA PALMERI 2/1/16, 7:21 PM CET Updated 2/1/16, 10:56 PM CET

A draft deal on the U.K.’s demands for renegotiated membership of the EU will be ready by midday Tuesday, but elements of controversial migration reforms must still be agreed upon, according to an EU diplomat involved in the talks.

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted Monday evening that he would soon publish his proposal “for a new settlement” for the U.K. in the EU.

Talks on the outstanding issues continued late into Monday evening. Differences remained on Britain’s insistence on an “emergency brake” temporary ban on in-work benefits for EU migrants for four years, as well as on a guarantee that non-eurozone countries can have some input in eurozone economic policies.

According to two EU officials, Tusk has been leaning towards leaving blank the number of years for which an emergency brake would apply.

“Tusk would prefer to keep the number for the negotiations,” a diplomat said. “He checked with some Eastern European states on the welfare issue, some of the member states said ‘don’t put in a figure until it’s confirmed’.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s request that the rights of non-eurozone members be protected by a safety mechanism is nearly concluded, the EU sources said. The text will contain details of a basic safety mechanism that would allow non-eurozone countries to request a eurozone issue be referred to the European Council, but they would not have the final decision.

In this way, Tusk is complying with a French demand that the new mechanism doesn’t give the U.K. a veto on eurozone decisions.

“Tusk phoned [François] Hollande who made clear what he needed, and Tusk made clear he would take that on board,” the EU diplomat said.

Tusk left a Sunday evening meeting with Cameron saying there was “no deal” and setting a 24-hour deadline for an agreement to be reached. Tusk set a deadline of Tuesday for sending the draft agreement to the EU’s 27 other leaders to give them enough time to consider the reforms in detail ahead of a February 18 summit.

Downing Street is likely to give a detailed response to Tusk’s statement on Tuesday, according to the Guardian, which will explain any legislative changes that are needed.

Cameron has been pushing for a deal before March so that he can hold the referendum in June 2016. If EU negotiators are not able to settle on a first draft of the agreement within the next few days, the whole process could be delayed.

Besides the controversial demand for a ban on welfare benefits for EU migrants, the U.K. is also encountering resistance from France on a proposal that would give Britain and other non-eurozone countries the ability to call a summit on eurozone economic policies they find troubling.

“To people in France, the euro is important and we need to create growth and stability,” a French official said. “If they know an EU country has a way to block our destiny, that’s not right.”

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said that even with the EU institutions’ agreement on Cameron’s draft, it does not guarantee the support of the other 27 member states.

“Progress has been made at the political and technical level notably following President [Jean-Claude] Juncker’s meeting with Prime Minister Cameron here at the Berlaymont on Friday and President Tusk’s meeting with the prime minister yesterday,” he said at a press conference in Brussels Monday. “However we are not there yet.“

“It is not enough for the Commission and the Council lawyers to agree,” he said. “This is a process that works at 28 and the Commission works for all 28 member states of the Union.”


Tara Palmeri

Cameron is just tip of the EU’s problems

There are others among the EU’s big four that are trying to change the status quo.

By TIM KING 2/1/16, 3:25 PM CET

The sight of David Cameron speed-dating European Union presidents has a transfixing quality. Here is a man threatening divorce, yet at the same time seeking to rewrite the terms of the pre-nup.

Over the course of Friday, he had to smile before the cameras with Jean-Claude Juncker, whom he had previously tried to block from becoming president of the European Commission, and then with Martin Schulz, president of a European Parliament that he has previously scorned. Ironies pile upon further ironies. A visit to London Sunday by Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, must have come as a blessed relief.

As spellbinding as Cameron’s contortions are, they do not tell us much about the state of the European Union. They simply confirm what has been known for many years: that the U.K. is part of the EU, but not “at the heart of Europe.”

The phrase “at the heart of Europe” was cheapened over the years by various British politicians. John Major, having taken over from Margaret Thatcher as prime minister at the end of 1990, pledged to put the U.K. at the heart of Europe. His successor Tony Blair claimed to have done so. And those of an unforgiving spirit might recall that in 2010, William Hague, who was then Cameron’s foreign minister, said he would put Britain at the heart of Europe (that was in the context of a plan to send more British civil servants to work in Brussels, which did not materialize, possibly because the civil servants had no wish to commit professional suicide).

Setting aside such vainglorious aspirations, which may or may not have been sincere, everyone is agreed that the British are not at the heart of Europe (and arguably never have been, at least not since 1945). The more intriguing and troubling question at this particular juncture is to ask: If not the British, who is at the heart of Europe?

The answer used to be obvious: France and Germany leading the way, with the other four founding nations of the EU — Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg — keeping in step. Some might have added Ireland, which joined the EU in 1973, and perhaps even Spain and Portugal. (In various ways, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Austria kept their distance and few thought of Greece as at the heart of Europe.) That was the kind of thinking underlying a comment from Jacques Chirac, the then president of France, who said in February 2003 of the countries that were about to join the EU but which had dared to criticize the imminent invasion of Iraq: “It is not well-brought-up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to shut up.”

* * *

Those certainties have long since disappeared. Plotting the loyalty of individual member countries to the EU cause is no easy task, even for the founding six. Perhaps unquestioning loyalty is still to be found in Luxembourg and Belgium. Dutch government politicians are, for the most part, still instinctively pro-EU, but now prone to voicing stinging criticism of the EU — accusing Brussels of undue interference.

Matteo Renzi has been prime minister for only two years (admittedly a long time by Italian standards), but already he has picked a series of confrontations with the EU. It was not the style of his predecessors to throw their weight around in Brussels. In the case of Silvio Berlusconi because he was both indolent and devious, while Romano Prodi and Mario Monti were both more courteous and pro-EU. Renzi is naturally more combative. Additionally, he puts his national politics first and judges that confrontation abroad may help him domestically.

In recent weeks, as well as replacing Italy’s permanent representative to the EU (perceived as being too soft), Renzi has held up an agreement on providing funding for Turkey to help her cope with an influx of migrants from Syria — in turn this is supposed to reduce the pressure of migration on the EU. Italy’s objections were nothing to do with the migration proposal — indeed Renzi has been arguing for the EU to come to Italy’s aid. Instead, Renzi was using the Turkey proposal to leverage concessions from Germany and the European Commission.

Last week, Renzi declared that he had secured the agreement of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for greater “flexibility” in assessing Italy’s compliance with EU fiscal rules. Whether there have been concessions is disputed and as yet untested, but optimists see this as a happy resolution. Pessimists warn that Renzi has learned the value of holding the EU hostage.

* * *

Less obviously, but perhaps just as destabilizing, Germany has been rocking the boat too. Wolfgang Schäuble, the finance minister, is calling into question the EU’s budget in ways that shake the assumptions on which other member countries decided to join the EU. Schäuble’s line, spelled out at a European Commission conference in September, and repeated at a German government event in Brussels in January, is that the migration crisis intensifies the need for a complete revamp of the EU’s budget.

Schäuble is viscerally pro-EU, but he regards the migration crisis as a complete game-changer, for both Germany and the EU. He does not believe that business-as-usual is either possible or desirable. This is a man who, having been at Helmut Kohl’s right hand in the late 1980s as the Soviet empire collapsed, went on to sign the treaty on German unification in 1990. For him, just as West Germany had to adapt its economy to the shock of unification in the 1990s, so Germany and the EU must change to meet the migration challenge.

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) and leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron arrive to attend the Remembrance Sunday Service at The Cenotaph

Germany and Italy are, for very different reasons, rocking the boat.

He is arguing that EU money should be spent only on what the EU states have to do together. It should not be replicating or replacing what a state can do alone. So border controls and migration policing are in, along with environmental and energy policies, and foreign affairs. However, most agriculture and cohesion spending wouldn’t meet the cut.

Additionally, just to make the medicine even more unpalatable, Schäuble has declared that he wants to make receipt of EU money conditional on member countries implementing agreed economic reforms.

“To be quite frank,” he said in that September speech, “I propose to use the money that is spent for cohesion policy and parts of the agriculture budget to support reform efforts in the member states. The national projects which benefit from financing from the European funds should be systematically designed to implement the country-specific recommendations. The Commission needs to make this the precondition for financing national projects.”

He argues that in the EU’s next multi-year spending cycle (2021 onwards), there should be more flexibility about where to assign spending — and by implication a significant reduction in spending on traditional areas.

Just as remarkable in the January speech is Schäuble’s warning that it may be necessary to depart from EU unity and unanimity: “We should not stop looking for innovative solutions. This could mean that we need to assemble a coalition of the willing. A coalition which is able to tackle the most urgent problems.”

Granted, Schäuble has a long history of outspoken rhetoric, and there will be some people who regard these speeches as posturing, and who will comfort themselves that he is unlikely to be on the political scene in 2021. But equally there will be others, particularly those who sit round the table with him at meetings of eurozone or EU finance ministers, who will be keenly aware of a significant shift in German government thinking.

* * *

What matters is that the biggest countries cannot be described as having a cohesive and coherent position on the EU. Germany and Italy are, for very different reasons, rocking the boat. France under François Hollande is preoccupied with its domestic politics and the struggle to improve economic performance. Spain is paralysed by an inconclusive parliamentary election. Poland has just elected a conservative government that is in dispute with the European Commission over its respect for democracy and the rule of law.

If those European presidents whom Cameron has been speed-dating dared ask themselves which countries now give unquestioning loyalty to the EU, how much further would the list go than Belgium, Luxembourg, the Baltic states, and Ireland?

Which surely adds another fascinating layer of complexity to the Brexit mix. There are various member states that are plainly dissatisfied with the EU in its current condition, yet this does not make Cameron’s task of changing the EU-U.K. relationship any easier. On the contrary, it means that those negotiating with Cameron — the likes of Tusk, Juncker and Angela Merkel — are less certain about what they can deliver. It means that Cameron’s counterparts round the European Council table are less sure of their allies and therefore less willing to make concessions now for the sake of rewards in the future: fear erodes generosity.

The temptation, in the coming weeks, will be to fix attention on Cameron and his domestic rivals, to look for unreasonable behavior that might be evidence of irretrievable breakdown in relations between the U.K. and its EU partners.

But, as the negotiations intensify, keep an eye also on relations between the rest of the EU’s biggest states. And, when Cameron demands exemption from any aspiration to “ever closer union,” be alive to the irony.


Tim King  

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