The PM will launch formal negotiations on Tuesday with a letter to Donald Tusk, the EU president. This will set out headings for “an intensive round of one-to-one discussions”. But Mr Cameron and George Osborne have already set out the details. Here we identify their main demands – and how likely it is that they will be met.
1. An end to the assumption of “ever closer union”. “We would be much more comfortable if the Treaty … [freed] those who want to go further, faster, to do so, without being held back by the others.”
Should be an easy win. The Council of Ministers agreed a statement in June 2014 “respecting the wish” of those who don’t want more integration. A draft protocol could be attached to a future treaty.
2. Protection of non-eurozone members. “What we seek are principles …binding on EU institutions that safeguard the operation of the Union for all 28 member states …. That includes the recognition that the EU has more than one currency and we should not discriminate against any business on the basis of the currency of the country in which they reside. The principles must ensure that as the eurozone chooses to integrate, it does so in a way that does not damage the interests of non-euro members.”
Tricky to draft, but the Germans want to be helpful. Do-able.
3. EU jobseekers should “have a job offer before they come” to the UK. And “if an EU jobseeker has not found work within six months, they will be required to leave”.
Hard to draft, hard to enforce, hard to secure support from central European countries.
4. “Those who want to claim tax credits and child benefit must live here and contribute … for a minimum of four years.” Plus: “We’ll introduce a new residency requirement for social housing, meaning that you can’t even be considered for a council house, unless you’ve been here again for at least four years.”
Many EU countries regard this as an unacceptable infringement of the free movement of workers. It might be possible to bring in rules like these under existing EU law if Britain moved to a system of benefits based on contributions. Otherwise, Mr Cameron is likely to have to settle for less than he wants.
5. “Stronger powers to deport criminals and to stop them coming back .... Tougher and longer re-entry bans for all of those who abuse free movement, including beggars, rough sleepers, fraudsters and people who collude in sham marriages.”
Vague but fairly uncontroversial.
6. “If their child is living abroad, then there should be no child benefit or no tax credit at all, no matter how long they’ve worked in the UK and no matter how much tax they’ve paid.”
No one has seriously opposed this, so should be easy to secure.
7. Strengthen oversight by national parliaments. “It is national parliaments, which are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU … We need to recognise that in the way the EU does business.”
Fairly uncontroversial, except with members of the European Parliament, who tend to think that they are democratically legitimate. Should be possible to agree a form of words that sounds as if the House of Commons is gaining scrutiny powers. EU opponents will criticise the PM for failing to secure a “red card” power for the Commons to block any EU law, but he hasn’t promised that.
Sources. 1, 7: David Cameron, Bloomberg speech, 23 January 2013; 3-6: Cameron, speech on immigration, 28 November 2014; 2: George Osborne, speech in Berlin last week.
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