quinta-feira, 18 de fevereiro de 2016
David Cameron wages ‘battle’ for Britain at EU summit / Novas tensões inviabilizam plano de acção europeu para refugiados
David Cameron wages ‘battle’ for Britain at EU summit
After first night of talks ends, Europe’s leaders keep working to reach a deal to avoid a Brexit.
By CRAIG WINNEKER and STEPHEN BROWN 2/18/16, 6:33 PM CET
One shirt down, nobody knows how many more to go.
EU leaders broke up talks after the first night of what had been billed as a “three-shirt summit” in Brussels without an agreement on redefining the U.K.’s membership of the Union — and with a lot of work left to do.
Differences remained on several key issues when leaders adjourned in the early hours of Friday morning, by which time their discussion on avoiding a Brexit, held much earlier in the evening, had long been eclipsed by an unexpectedly long argument over how to deal with Europe’s migration crisis.
A “working dinner” on that thorny question turned into a six-hour debate — focused mainly on Austria’s contentious decision to cap the number of asylum-seekers it would take in.
Informal talks on the U.K.-EU deal resumed immediately after the summit meeting ended, and would continue into Friday as leaders, officials and diplomats tried to fine-tune the language of the agreement to address concerns raised by several countries.
“We have made some progress but a lot still remains to be done,” said European Council President Donald Tusk in a brief press statement after the meeting adjourned at around 2:30 a.m. A visibly tired Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker then turned to a series of “bilateral” meetings with EU leaders aimed at firming up support for the deal.
They met first with British Prime Minister David Cameron and were then to hold head-to-head talks with three leaders who had raised serious objections to the deal: French President François Hollande, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka.
Cameron did not make a statement after the meeting ended, but during the talks on the Brexit question he held to his promise to “battle for Britain” and insisted that EU leaders support reforms he could sell to U.K. voters ahead of an In/Out referendum.
The British prime minister kicked off the meeting by telling EU leaders the “question of Britain’s place in Europe has been allowed to fester for too long and it is time to deal with it.”
Calling the summit a chance “to settle this issue for a generation,” Cameron said it could result in “a fundamentally different approach to our relationship with the EU — what some might call a sort of ‘live and let live.’”
Cameron had already framed the issue more bluntly as he arrived at the meeting, telling reporters, “I’ll be battling for Britain.”
As part of that battle he launched a surprise salvo, asking other EU leaders to give Britain the power to ban in-work welfare benefits for migrants from EU countries for up to 13 years, an EU diplomat said.
The Conservative leader had been expected to ask for only a seven-year “safety mechanism” period during talks. However, he kicked off the discussions by raising the stakes and asking for the option of two additional three-year periods, the diplomat said.
But his 27 counterparts in the EU, while generally voicing their eagerness to reach a deal that would keep Britain among their ranks, made it clear they would not surrender so easily to all of the U.K.’s demands. Several said they still have issues with Cameron’s proposed changes to EU rules and were prepared to talk through the night — even into the next day and beyond — if necessary.
Addressing one of the thorniest issues, Cameron told the leaders he wants immediate action to reform rules on welfare benefits sent by EU migrants to their children living abroad, a demand that has been difficult for Central and Eastern European countries to accept.
“Such a proposal would be unacceptable for 10 countries at least, maybe more,” Tomáš Prouza, the Czech Republic’s state secretary for EU affairs, told POLITICO.
The predominant tone of other EU leaders going into the meeting was one of cautious optimism.
Other critics homed in on Cameron’s demand for a British exclusion from EU treaty language promising an “ever closer union.” Strongly pro-European countries, including France and Belgium, oppose moving away from the language.
“There are those who say it is symbolic, and others who say that symbols matter,” said one EU diplomat with knowledge of the summit discussions over how to phrase the deal’s language. “These are again contortions of language.”
Valletta Summit on Migration
Another EU official described the problem as a clash between a strict legal interpretation of the EU treaty and the political reality of what its words mean. Tusk, the official said, is trying to convince leaders that the words “ever closer union” do not constitute a legal commitment to further political integration — anathema to Cameron.
“That’s a legal fact,” the official said, “but that collides with the political notion in many member states and when you then spell it out, as we have done, it is problematic.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was confident a deal could be reached over the U.K. demands, despite continued disagreements on issues such as social welfare for migrants. Ultimately, the leaders understood that the compromises necessary to keep the U.K. in the EU would be less painful than its exit.
“It’s clear that this isn’t easy for some, but the will to get this done is there,” she said, stressing Germany’s continued support for the U.K.’s position.
Tusk has not been shy in recent days about stressing the fragile nature of the negotiations and importance of reaching a deal quickly.
“There is a serious risk that the U.K. will leave the Union,” he said in an interview with Polish television before the summit. That, he added, would be “the beginning of the end” for the Union.
The predominant tone of other EU leaders going into the meeting was one of cautious optimism — everyone wants a deal and is confident it can be achieved but no one was willing to pronounce it done just yet.
Eastern European countries have resisted Britain’s proposals to restrict welfare benefits to EU migrants employed in the U.K. Their opposition appeared to be softening in recent days as diplomats tinkered with language of the agreement on how the restrictions would be applied. But they were promising to keep up the fight.
“We want to come to an understanding,” Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło said Thursday afternoon at the summit’s doorstep, “but not at any cost.”
France has held a strong rhetorical line against another controversial measure in the draft agreement: giving non-eurozone countries too much of a say in euro affairs.
Hollande, arriving at the meeting, said he was confident a deal could be struck, but warned that nobody should be above the EU’s common rules. “An agreement is possible but only if certain conditions are met,” said Hollande. “No countries can have a veto.”
I think everyone will have its own drama, and then we will agree.
The sideshow, bilateral meetings took on crucial importance as leaders huddled to discuss strategy and positioning. Hollande and Merkel met before the summit even began, to talk about migration and according to a diplomat familiar with their talks stressed their “perfect coordination” on both Brexit and migration issues.
But it remained to be seen whether that coordination would be shared by everyone around the table, and how long it would take to find out.
The expected scenario was perhaps best described by Dalia Grybauskaitė, the president of Lithuania, who upon entering the meeting drily noted the tendency of EU politics to be theatrical.
Asked if a deal were possible at the summit, she said: “I hope so, why not? I think everyone will have its own drama, and then we will agree.”
Tara Palmeri and Maïa de la Baume contributed to this article.