EU renegotiation: What Europe's leaders think of David Cameron's plans

As the Prime Minister sits down for a crucial EU supper, which of his fellow diners are friends? And which are foes?

Leo Cendrowicz,Oliver Wright
Wednesday 16 December 2015 22:04
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and French President Francois Hollande, with David Cameron during a NATO summit last year
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and French President Francois Hollande, with David Cameron during a NATO summit last year

Angela Merkel, Germany

Europe’s matriarch usually sets the tone for summits, calmly ushering fellow leaders towards her position. She has long argued that the EU must do what it can to keep the UK inside, but has her limits: she is clear that curbs to free movement are a non-starter. But she will help Cameron find a pragmatic compromise on migrant access to welfare.

François Hollande, France

Hollande has become more concerned in recent months about Brexit prospects, with far-right leader Marine Le Pen making ever louder calls for a similar referendum in France. While he is wary of a special deal to protect the UK’s financial services sector – the City is often portrayed as a sinister anti-European force – he backs initiatives to reduce bureaucracy.

Matteo Renzi, Italy

Renzi has a youthful, centrist dynamism similar to Cameron’s, and his efforts to reform the Italian economy echo the renegotiation demands about European competitiveness. However, with Italy currently straining during the refugee crisis, Renzi may baulk at Cameron’s hostility towards migrants.

Mark Rutte, Netherlands

Rutte is a close ally of Cameron and often sounds like the Prime Minister when cautioning against Brussels bureaucracy. Expect him to offer vocal support during the dinner.

Mariano Rajoy, Spain

Spanish voters go to the polls on Sunday, and Rajoy’s conservative PP is unlikely to win an overall majority. Even if Rajoy is still in office when the negotiations conclude next year, he is expected to oppose the planned “red card” for national parliaments and is reluctant to water down the principle of “ever-closer union”.

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António Costa, Portugal

Costa has been in office less than three weeks and this is his first EU summit. His Socialist-led government is less supportive of Cameron’s open-market initiatives, and his planned restrictions on migrants’ access to welfare.

Alexis Tspiras, Greece

Tspiras has enough on his plate – not least the ongoing concerns about Grexit from the eurozone – and has barely engaged in the UK’s reform debate. While he is unlikely to be enthusiastic about the proposals he has an obvious incentive not to take a stance that hastens any member state’s departure from the EU.

Charles Michel and Xavier Bettel, Belgium and Luxembourg

Michel and Bettel can probably claim to be the most federalist of all the EU leaders. They have a strong attachment to European integration and will baulk at moves to weaken the symbolic language of “ever closer union”, but are still likely to accept a compromise text.

Enda Kenny, Ireland

Kenny knows Ireland is the member state with most at risk from a Brexit: he may be the most helpful leader throughout the renegotiation, although Ireland will remain firm in defending the principle of free movement.

Werner Faymann, Austria

Faymann will be sympathetic to Cameron’s efforts to restrict EU migrants’ access to welfare, and his economic liberalisation plans. Austria usually follows in Germany’s slipstream in EU affairs, and will seek a practical compromise to Cameron’s dilemmas.

Viktor Orbán, Hungary

As right-of-centre politicians, Orbán and Cameron were the only EU leaders to resist Jean-Claude Juncker’s coronation as EU Commission President. Orbán will support Cameron’s proposals to give greater powers to National Parliaments and protect countries not in the eurozone. But limiting migrant benefits is a red line.

Beata Szydło, Poland

Only elected prime minister a month ago, this will be Szydło’s first Council meeting and her attitude will be crucial to Cameron’s success. Ideologically she is close to the Tories and will back Britain in three out of four of Cameron’s reform “pillars”. But with Poles making up the single largest group of immigrants to Britain she cannot give ground on benefit restrictions. However, if Poland can be sold on muted proposals for an “emergency migration break” or focusing benefits restrictions on the unemployed, other Eastern European countries, notably Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, could fall in line.

Boyko Borissov, Bulgaria

Cameron caused controversy earlier this month when he visited Bulgaria’s new 20-mile razor-wire fence with Turkey alongside Borissov as part of his EU charm offensive. Bulgaria is lukewarm about much of Cameron’s reform agenda but is likely to fall into line if countries such as Germany can be persuaded to come onside.

Stefan Löfven, Sweden

Sweden is one of Britain’s most dependable allies in Brussels and Cameron will be hoping that this will be no exception. As the second biggest economy outside of the eurozone, Sweden will be keen for protection against greater EU integration, but Cameron’s migrant benefits plan is problematic even here.

Klaus Iohannis, Romania

Romania is still smarting slightly from the way in which the country was portrayed in 2014 when Romanian citizens were first allowed to come and work in Britain. Cameron tried to repair that damage during a visit earlier this month, suggesting Romania could benefit by stemming the brain drain that deprives them of skilled workers. He got short shrift.

Laimdota Straujuma, Dalia Grybauskaitė, Taavi Rõivas: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia

On most of Cameron’s proposals for EU reform, the three leaders of the Baltic states are likely to vote as one – although Estonia is much more hardline than the other two in its opposition safeguarding the interests of euro opt-outs because they fear that the future of the currency could be jeopardised if Britain slowed down decision-making. All three are opposed to cracking down on in-work migrant benefits but broadly support plans to give national parliaments’ a greater say in EU decision-making.

Joseph Muscat, Malta

Maltese citizens living in the UK will, along with Irish and Cypriot residents, be the only EU nationals entitled to vote in the referendum. Malta is likely to go along with the consensus of the Council.

Bohuslav Sobotka, Robert Fico: Czech Republic and Slovakia

The two member states that once constituted Czechoslovakia have very similar views on all the pillars of the British renegotiation “ask”. They are in favour of extending the single market to services, are lukewarm about giving national parliaments a veto on new EU laws and are happy for non-eurozone safeguards. They oppose in-work benefit restrictions.

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Juha Sipilä, Finland

Finland is the only other country other than Ireland not to have rejected Cameron’s plan for a crackdown on migrant benefits out of hand. Sipilä leads a Eurosceptic government in the traditional sense of the word – wanting a “less but better” European Union.

Nicos Anastasiades, Cyprus

Cyprus is sympathetic to Cameron’s agenda, in particular the emphasis on greater competitiveness and a stronger role for national parliaments. Anastasiades will not want to jeopardise British EU membership.

Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Denmark

Earlier this month Danish voters rejected a plan by the government to give up their opt-out on EU home affairs co-operation – reminding Cameron of how unpredictable referendums are. Denmark is also Eurosceptic.

Miro Cerar, Slovenia

Earlier this year, Cameron became the first-ever British Prime Minister to visit Slovenia in a sign of how seriously the Government is taking its EU charm offensive. Slovenia may be prepared to back a compromise on migrant benefits.

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