UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron will probably remember last European Council summit, held in Brussels at the end of last week, not only for the delicate discussions on Russia and talks to improve the functioning of the Eurozone next June. His bid to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union was one of the hottest topics indeed, both in Brussels and the international press. Especially because Mr Cameron’s proposal has been openly criticised by some influential members of the bloc.
In a speech last month, the UK Premier unveiled plans for a cap on the number of European migrants joining Britain’s workforce every year, as part of negotiations with Brussels. In the measures suggested, he proposed a four-year wait before EU migrants qualify for tax credits, child benefit and social housing, deporting EU jobseekers who have not found work within six months. The Conservatives also have in mind to propose an end to child benefit payments to migrants whose children live in another EU country. This last proposal, according to an exclusive revelation by The Independent, has been discussed by Mr Juncker and Angela Merkel, but despite this Cameron seems to have more opponents than supporters on this ground.
It’s pretty clear that Cameron’s proposal is an attempt to win back the more conservative voters’ faith ahead of the general elections next year, knowing that immigration is one of the biggest knots in the “battle” with his opponents in the UK. The support Angela Merkel is reportedly giving him might be seen as an attempt by the German Chancellor to boost UK’s PM’s prospects at the general election. Mr. Cameron is expected to demand new powers for Britain within the EU and possibly to basically renegotiate Britain’s ties with the EU. He will obviously try to claw back powers to London from Brussels before holding a membership referendum in 2017, should he win national election next May.
Cameron allies insisted that last month’s speech was well received in Europe and that several key EU members want reform of the rules on migrants, but last European Council summit could be the proof that things won’t be so easy for the British PM.
French President Francois Hollande has threatened to veto David Cameron’s attempts to renegotiated Britain’s relationship with the EU, saying that his renegotiated EU treaty is both unnecessary and a product of the rise of the UK Independence Party. The socialist President, who is suffering in the polls and has fallen behind the Front National leader Marine Le Pen, fears that a change in the Treaties could trigger a referendum in France. Being such an unpopular President, Hollande has no will for treaty changes, as they would practically be bound to turn into a vote on him.
The French President has allegedly dismissed the British case for renegotiation as a product of internal political disarray, accusing Mr Cameron of being “obsessed with his own problems”, as widely anticipated by many media outlets.
France was not the only country to have openly opposed to Britain’s plan and vision. While Cameron was trying to persuade fellow national leaders of the need for EU reform, he faced another set-back after Rafal Trzaskowski, Poland’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, who openly attacked his proposal. In a letter to The Independent, Mr. Trzaskowki, described Cameron’s proposals as discriminatory, unfair and illegal under EU rules on the freedom of movement. “There is a red line we cannot allow ourselves to cross and that is discrimination against EU citizens”, Mr. Trzaskowki said.
Writing in the Independent, the Polish politician stressed that EU migrants living in the UK contributed more to the country through their taxes than they took out in benefits. “Let’s assume that the UK introduces a four-year ban on access to some of the benefits for the EU migrants. What would it actually mean in practice? EU migrants work and contribute to the British economy, pay taxes and contributions just as other British workers do, yet they do not have the same safety net. This proposal is not only against the existing EU law, but it is simply unfair”, Mr. Trzaskowki said.
Poland’s veto, along with France’s strong opposition could be a big setback for UK’s Prime Minister, as he could need the agreement of the majority of the EU’s members for his renegotiation of Britain’s EU relationship treaty change.
Poland is indeed an influential country in the EU as the biggest of the eastern European nations, to join the bloc in 2004, which are progressively getting to a much more self-conscious role in the Union. The clear-cut words of Polish leaders like Mr. Trzaskowki are a proof of that.
“The EU single market, which is so close not only to Poland’s but also the UK’s heart, is not about choosing one freedom over another. It works only when treated as a whole package of mutually reinforcing freedoms”, he challenged Mr. Cameron.
It will be interesting to see how much Cameron’s political speech will be influenced by that, in his post Christmas tactics.