Friday, 26 February 2016 13:19

What the EU-UK deal means for Europe

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Photo: Number 10 (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

"#UKinEU done. Drama over” tweeted Lithuanian’s president Dalia Grybauskaite right after European Council President Donald Tusk’s announcement that a deal between the European Union and the UK had been struck. But is the drama truly over? The Referendum about the Brexit is still to take place on 23 June 2016 so that Britain’s membership to the EU is all but guaranteed. So then what was this deal about? Does it change anything for the UK or for the EU?

For the British Prime Minister David Cameron, the purpose of the deal was to obtain a European Union closer to Britain’s wishes and demands. In the Conservative manifesto for the 2015 general election he promised reforms that would render UK’s staying in the EU beneficial. This deal will serve as the basis for the “In” campaign. European leaders’ aim was to help the UK remain a member of the EU while protecting the EU’s core values and principles. According to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, it was also a good opportunity to implement much needed reforms: “Mr Cameron’s demands are far from being demands that are just for Britain. They are also European demands and many of them are justified and necessary”, she said before the deal was struck.

The content of the deal

The deal implements several alterations to the EU in different fields.
In terms of immigration, Cameron obtained curtailments on migrants’ benefits: In-work benefits can be frozen for a duration of seven years and can be phased in during four years. Child benefits are reduced and indexed to the cost of living. The deal provides new powers to exclude people believed to be a security risk.
When it comes to financial regulations, the deal states that the UK is the only country able to impose a handbrake on financial regulations. This constituted one of the hardest sticking points during the last hours of negotiations. However, it was finally accepted because it did not give the UK a thorough veto but only a means to delay regulations. Besides, countries that are not part of the eurozone will be exempted from bailing out countries of the monetary zone.
Finally, Britain opts out of the “ever closer union” clause, which has tremendous symbolic significance, since the UK has always been reluctant to being subject of an increasing European super-State. The deal states that “It is recognized that the United Kingdom ... is not committed to further political integration in the European Union ... References to ever-closer union do not apply to the United Kingdom.”


Is this a European or a British victory?

At first glance, the mere fact that a deal was reached was an achievement for both sides of the negotiating table. During the negotiations all EU leaders insisted that the aim was to allow the UK to remain in the union. Before the German Parliament Merkel mentioned: “It is in our national interest that Great Britain should remain an active member in a strong and successful EU”. All those involved in the negotiations insisted this deal was wished and accepted by all. Tusk tweeted: “We have achieved a legally binding and irreversible deal decided on by all 28 leaders, strengthening Britain's special status in the EU”.
However, the deal is undeniably a political success for Cameron, who showed his willingness and stamina during this negotiation of more than 30 hours. Besides, he obtained, even if in a watered-down fashion for some, all his demands. Eastern countries were outright opposed to any reductions on benefits, but they finally met halfway with the UK Prime Minister.
Britain’s exemption from the “ever closer union clause” is particularly telling since it is a principle that has been at the core of the EU since the very beginning. "Ever-closer union is an emotional question. We want integration to progress, and it's not easy when someone says something quite different,” said Merkel. This underlines how Britain’s special treatment might be jeopardizing for the EU. The deal demonstrates the possibility to maintain one’s membership while refusing political integration, which is an essential principle of the EU. If other countries were to wish such treatments, the EU as a political entity would collapse. That is why the deal makes sure that only the UK is allowed to benefit from those special rights. However, the Danes already mentioned their interest in implementing similar in-work benefits reductions. The French President François Hollande warned that the EU cannot be “à la carte”, but the risk is real that it is actually what it becomes.

What comes next?

During his press conference on last Saturday, Cameron officially gave the date for the referendum and thus officially started his four-months campaign to convince the British people to stay in the EU. The outcome of this referendum remains uncertain: A poll published earlier this month by the international market research firm Yougov revealed that 47% of the British voters said that their votes were not set in stone or that they genuinely did not know where they stand. It is up to Cameron to show that the deal he clinched radically changes UK’s position within the EU and renders it beneficial for his country. Meanwhile, an increasing number of his cabinet ministers officially announce their involvement in the “Out” campaign, which increases the uncertainty and the political divide within the Conservatives. Then, the “Brexit question” has become a fully domestic issue, so that the other European countries can only wait for the outcome of the referendum and hope that another upheaval will not shatter an already exhausted European Union mired in economic and refugee crises. 

Last modified on Thursday, 21 April 2016 08:34

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