After David’s wish list from last November we got Donald’s answer. On Tuesday, the president of the European Council sent to the presidents of EU governments the draft of the agreement that would prevent the leaving of the UK from the EU. The letter, accompanied by the draft decision to be adopted by the European Council, represents the basis for the debate during the next EU Summit scheduled for the next 18th and 19th February in Brussels. Similarly to Cameron’s requests, the answer too is divided into four “baskets”.
THE PROPOSED DEAL
Regarding the first two topics, economical governance and competitiveness, Tusk’s draft answers to most of Cameron’s requests.
In the field of economical governance the draft decision foresees that countries outside the Eurozone wouldn’t be forced to participate in the economic and monetary union (EMU), while at the same time they wouldn’t impede the implementation of measures needed to attain EMU’s objectives. Similarly, EU law giving the ECB, the Single Resolution Board (SRB) and other similar EU bodies authority over credit institutions, will be applicable only to credit institutions located within the Eurozone. At the same time, national authorities of non Eurozone countries would keep the control of credit institutions in those countries.
The draft also contains the assurance that non Eurozone countries wouldn’t have any financial responsibilities to maintain financial stability of Eurozone countries. They would, however, be able to participate in Eurogroup meetings, without voting power.
Regarding competitiveness, the Member States would make all the needed efforts in order to adopt measures to guarantee better regulation and simplify legislation, lower administrative burdens and to pursue an ambitious and active trade policy.
The third topic regarding sovereignty is mostly dealing with the term of “even closer Union” and the role of national parliaments in dealing with EU affairs. Regarding the “even closer Union” the draft states, that the reference to this term are compatible with different integration paths and it doesn’t require countries to pursue a complete integration. The document also takes note that the UK doesn’t want to participate in deeper integration and that this will be incorporated into the Treaties at the time of the next revision.
Regarding the role of national parliaments, the draft contains a kind of upgrade of the current “yellow flag” system to control the correct use of the subsidiarity principle. Under current rules, if a third of national parliaments decides so, the Commission has to review the draft legislation and further explain if it will continue with the proposal. Furthermore, if more than half of the parliaments issue reasoned opinions regarding the violation of the subsidiarity principle, the Council or the EP can block the adoption of the legislation in case the Commission hasn’t withdrawn the proposal itself.
The proposed system, which is not clear if it would replace the current one (not very possible as it is foreseen by the treaties), would request a debate of the national parliaments’ concerns within the Council, if the request is backed by 55% of the votes given to the parliaments (each has two votes). After the debate it would be for the Council to stop the legislative proposal if the Commission wouldn’t change it.
Besides the “even closer Union” principle and the role of national parliaments, the sovereignty part recognizes the importance of the exemptions set down in the Protocols, which represent an integral part of the treaties and a clear reassurance that national security remains the sole responsibility of each Member State.
Most probably the most delicate “basket” is the last one, which is dealing with social benefits access and free movement. This part of the decision lays down the already existing possibilities, present in current legislation, for States to limit access to social benefits for EU expats. Besides them, the draft decides also two very precise promises to amend legislation.
First, the Commission would prepare a proposal to amend Regulation 883/2004 in the part dealing with child benefit transfer to another EU State. Under this proposal the countries would be allowed to index the benefits to the standard of living in the country where the children reside.
Moreover, the draft decision foresees also changes in Regulation 492/2011 on free movement of workers to limit access to in-labour benefits in the case of an exceptional magnitude of workers inflow from other EU States over a certain period of time. To invoke this safeguard mechanism the country involved should inform the Commission and the Council, who, after checking, could authorise restrictions to access to in-work benefits for a total period of up to four years from the start of the employment.
WILL IT PASS?
The first reactions from the British PM are positive. He said that is a deal “worth to fight for”. However, as pointed out by the BBC, Cameron wasn’t able to achieve all the requests. They are especially sceptical regarding the social benefits, where the PM was seeking a complete end to child benefit transfer abroad, and regarding the role of national parliaments in the legislative process.
In my opinion the 27 other can accept the deal, as it doesn’t contain any controversial part. Maybe the four years’ safeguard mechanism seems discriminatory, but it has to be seen as an “emergency exit” for Cameron, who needs to save his face in front of the British public. Any limitation would be difficult to achieve and in any case it would have to be adopted by the Council (therefore also by other countries). Regardless of this “emergency exit”, I don’t think that the draft decision will be appreciated by the British, which was indicated by the front pages of the main British newspapers and by the first reactions of some British politicians.
In any case it is impossible to expect that the British PM would be able to achieve all the requests. We have to keep in mind hat we are in a situation where one country stands in front of 27 others and that any agreement would be a compromise. If the proposal is acceptable to all 27+1 countries will be probably known in two weeks. To see if it will be acceptable also for Britons, we will need to wait a little bit more. Maybe until June, when the referendum should be held. In any case, even if they will decide to leave, they should keep in mind that the “divorce” will arrive after negotiations and it will in any case represent a compromise. But this would be another story.