Nothing really new or thrilling. This is how we could summarize the British “wish list”, sent by Prime Minister David Cameron to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk on Tuesday, in which are contained the “four main areas where the United Kingdom is seeking reform.” The letter and its requests represent the basis for negotiations and talks with other EU Member States during the next European Council summit in December. What are the wishes that the EU and its other 27 states should realize to keep the UK in the Union?
Cameron summarized the British requests, as already said, in four main areas of action – economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty and immigration. Globally we could say, that some of the requests are quite realistic and justified (you can check the complete list in the letter sent by the British PM). The requests to recognize the fact that the EU has several different currencies, to protect the integrity of the single market, to guarantee that non-Euro countries would not be financially liable for errors of Eurozone countries and that they can’t be forced to take part in Eurozone projects (like the banking union) are completely reasonable. Moreover, I don’t think that there are any problems with the requests to boost EU’s competitiveness with the finalization of the Single Market and by guaranteeing the free movement of capitals, goods and services. This requests could be easily achieved as they are not controversial and therefore the other countries shouldn’t oppose.
More problematic could be the part regarding sovereignty, where the British side will try to be excluded from the creation of an “ever closer union” and to obtain a veto power for national parliaments on new legislative proposals. Even if I agree with the fact that no country should be obliged to take part in something that it doesn’t want, I don’t want this country to block the others who want to get closer.
Regarding the national parliament’s veto power, I consider that they have already enough possibilities to participate in the shaping of EU legislation. The Lisbon Treaty gives national parliaments the role of supervisor to check if the legislative proposals take into account the principle of subsidiarity (you can read more on the national parliament’s powers here). In addition we could say that national parliaments are indirectly represented also within the Council of the EU. National parliaments are in fact in charge of supervising the work of the national governments (which was mentioned also by Cameron in his presentation speech) that are representing the interests of its countries in the Council. If the parliaments don’t agree with a specific proposal, it’s their job to press the government to raise this concern on the EU level.
From all of the areas mentioned by the British PM, I think that the area of immigration, specially the one from other EU member states to the UK, will be the most problematic to reach a deal. Again. Several requests in this area, specially those linked to the prevention of the abuses of the principle of free movement of people, are completely justified. In fact, some of them can be achieved already within the current set of EU rules (as I explained and discussed already in the past here). For example, every country has the right to expel and forbid the entry on its territory to convicted criminals (persons who “represent a threat to public security”). Moreover, countries have also the right to send back home those EU citizens who can’t find a job within 6 months after their arrival to the hosting country. And finally, the country can decide to give social security benefits only after the person has lived and contributed to the social security budget for a certain period of time (if the same request is valid also for its citizens).
However, the biggest problem will represent, and Cameron already states it in his letter, the request to limit the number of immigrants from other EU countries. As the request is rather sensitive, the letter doesn’t contain any specific request. It only mentions the fact that there is far more EU citizens arriving to the UK, than British citizens moving to other EU states. The only concrete request in this field is the limitation of immigration from future new member states until “their economies have converged much more closely with the existing Member States.” Unfortunately, this represents a pure violation of the fundamental freedom of movement for citizens that is, in my opinion, the most important fundamental right/freedom of the EU. We are talking about the right that allows all EU citizens to try to realize and live their “European dream” anywhere within our continent. Over this request weren’t very satisfied within the European Commission, that has a clear a position that any kind of discrimination is not allowed.
Although Tuesday’s letter represent only the basis for the start of negotiations, it is also a clear (even if very general and vague) list of requests to be realized to keep the UK within the EU. Even if the British PM stated during his letter presentation speech, that he wants a reform that wouldn’t benefit only Britain, but also all the other EU States, I can’t lose the feeling that the UK is seeking to reform the EU according to its own taste. This feeling is concretized by the requests of “formal, legally binding and irreversible” guarantees, which would exclude the UK from any commitment for further integration and to take further responsibilities. On the other hand there is no “formal, legally binding and irreversible” guarantee from the UK side that it won’t block the other EU States to achieve, if they want, an “ever closer union” if they will agree with the British requests.
The European Union without any doubt needs a reform. However, instead of dealing with the requests of one country, who would like only to take part in the sharing of benefits, while not taking its part in sharing the responsibilities, the EU should take action in the areas where a common action is needed. The European countries need a strong Union with strong powers and not a debating club, where its leaders meet from time to time and where they decide some actions that every side in the end interprets how it wants and that in the end remain unrealised.