Following the failure of the European Council’s summit on December 17-18 to answer positively to UK’s requests regarding EU migrant’s social benefits ban, it was time for the German Councellor and French President to take the lead and try to avoid a possible Brexit. Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande thus proposed to the British Prime Minister (PM) David Cameron to pause EU migrants claiming benefits for three years instead of four, which was his initial demand.
Migration is set as a top priority by Mr Cameron in order to “persuade” the rest EU countries that Great Britain deserves more in order to stay within the EU. However, countries such as Poland, Lithuania, Portugal and Spain oppose to the aforementioned proposal.
The matter now rests with the ability of the British PM to persuade the EU leaders to grant UK with this EU migration ban at the next summit next February. If he manages to do so, there are great chances that he will campaign in favour of the UK’s membership within the EU in the referendum that is going to take place sometime before 2017.
Germany and France brought the Christmas gifts
David Cameron cannot complain he didn’t receive his Christmas present this year by Santa. His requests have heeded and alternatives have been proposed. According to the website Express, a French official involved in the negotiations said: “there was a co-ordination between Hollande and Merkel to discuss possible compromises on this issue, ideally compatible with the treaties”. The proposal made by Germany and France has opened widely the EU door to Mr Cameron and provided him with the necessary “tools” to keep to some extent his pre-electoral promises while endorsing the EU path of the country.
But will UK’s migrant ban policy even work?
Will the proposal of the British PM to ban EU migrants from claiming social benefits make the British economy more prosperous and competitive and reduce migration? The answer, according to the economist and senior member of the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) Sir Stephen Nickell, is negative. More specifically, he had mentioned while appearing before the House of Common’s Treasury select committee: “Changing the benefit rules for EU migration so that they become more difficult to obtain – you are asking me what impact that is likely to have. In my opinion: not much. I am prepared to say that any changes to benefit rules are unlikely to have a huge impact on migration flows.”
Therefore, the will of Mr Cameron to reduce migration coming from the EU is not going to be too beneficial for the UK after all, which is still facing hardship like many EU member states from the increased migration waves. Particularly, according to Oliver Hawkins’s paper, annual net migration has reached 336,000 in June which is a new record high. It is stated also that the main reason that people migrate to the UK and especially to London is work and the second one is studies.
The opposition of EU member states
There is a lot of work to be done in order to persuade the EU members, which see this migration ban policy as “pure discrimination” and raise serious concerns. Particularly, except for Poland, Lithuania, Portugal and Spain and Belgium are among the countries that disagree with Cameron’s proposal. According to Politico website, a European diplomat stated on the British PM’s attempt to convince EU countries to accept his plan: “you can look people in the eye for a long enough but it doesn’t mean you will be mesmerized”.
But for how long?
Even if there are great oppositions by some countries, the German Chancellor has the power to convince them by promoting new proposals and alternatives that can satisfy the UK and leave the EU treaties “untouched”.
Hence, everyone will be pleased and in the end Britain will probably stay within the EU. But till that time is reached, this hot topic is going to be plaguing the European leaders’ minds till the end of 2017 when the British people will have to decide about the faith of their country regarding its membership or not within the EU.
Europe gives in
All in all, it is rather shocking to see that the EU seems determined to play Cameron’s referendum game, in order to ensure stability and help him campaign in favour of the UK staying in the EU. It seems that these days politicians take too big risks just to stay in power and get re-elected. David Cameron did so, Tsipras did the same and so many others. Cameron played the European fate of his entire country just to stay in power and got into an absolute mess where he couldn’t until recently take neither a step forward or back for months.
The big leaders of the EU, in fear of the big challenges the block is bound to face in 2016 like migration, they unexpectedly concede to an “à la carte” EU mobility. It seems that if someone wants to ask something from the EU, now is the best moment. Who knows? Maybe we get a Schengen “à la carte” very soon.
The Sting will be monitoring the Brexit challenge closely.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CAnyfantis