There will be no agreement on David Cameron’s reform plans at the European Council summit on December 17th-18th. But Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, will try to help Cameron bridge the gap between the UK and other member-states, possibly setting the stage for a final deal in February.
In a new policy brief, ‘Cameron’s EU reforms: Will Europe buy them?’, CER research fellow Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska asks which of Cameron’s reforms might be acceptable to his European colleagues, and which member-states will be the most and least helpful in achieving them.
Based on interviews with officials and analysts from all member-states, Gostyńska-Jakubowska concludes that Cameron is asking for three types of reforms:
Who will help, and who will hinder Cameron
Cameron has allies in Ireland, Malta and Cyprus; they will not want to risk their strong historic and cultural bonds with the UK. His ‘all weather friends’ in the Council of Ministers such as Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark are likely to help too. Hungary and Poland will be Cameron’s closest allies in Central Europe, although, like most other member-states, they oppose his call to restrict in-work benefits for EU workers.
Cameron also faces tough opposition in other renegotiation areas: Austria, Belgium and Estonia reject his ideas for safeguarding the interests of euro-outs, whilst Spain is opposed to strengthening national parliaments’ role in the EU. But opposition from one country to a particular reform will not torpedo the entire reform package.
The good news for Cameron is that most member-states want to meet him half way on most of his demands. Germany, France and Italy will be pivotal. If Cameron shows willingness to compromise, they will help talk the hardliners around. The choice is his.
- On 10 November, David Cameron sent a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk, finally setting out his demands for renegotiation of the terms of British membership in the EU. But Tusk believes that an agreement cannot be reached at the European Council of 17-18 December. In his own letter to EU leaders on 7 December, Tusk said that Cameron’s proposals were "difficult" but suggested that it would be possible "to prepare a concrete proposal to be finally adopted in February".
- The CER has conducted interviews with government representatives and analysts from all the EU member-states and mapped their responses to Cameron’s reform proposals. While the positions of member-states will certainly evolve during the negotiations, the CER’s initial conclusions are as follows:
What prospects are there for compromise on Cameron’s reform proposals?
- The feasible: David Cameron can claim a quick win on the EU’s competitiveness agenda. He can also secure a greater role for national parliaments, although it is not yet clear if member-states will agree to turn ‘yellow cards’ into red ones, or merely strengthen the existing ‘yellow card’ procedure. The rest of the EU will also probably agree that the UK should not be obliged to pursue an ‘ever closer union’ although some member-states fear a domino effect, with populist parties elsewhere in Europe demanding similar exemptions. Cameron may also obtain a guarantee against funding Eurozone bail-outs. Member-states will probably agree to reassure Cameron that nothing the eurozone does should damage the single market.
- The possible: Cameron will find it hard, but perhaps not impossible, to secure a mechanism enabling Britain and other euro-outs to delay decisions that in their view damage the single market. Member-states may also eventually compromise on Cameron’s demand to curb child allowances for children who are not resident in the UK.
- The difficult: Cameron will struggle to secure formal recognition that euro membership is voluntary for all member-states, though language may be found which acknowledges that EU countries use different currencies. But Cameron’s hardest battle is on in-work benefits. Some member-states share his concerns about the strain that EU migration may put on public services or labour markets. But all EU countries, perhaps with the exception of Ireland and Finland, will oppose measures that discriminate between British and other EU citizens and therefore violate the current EU treaties.
Which member-states will help Cameron and which will make his life difficult?
- Cameron hopes he can count on his ‘all-weather friends’ in the EU like Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark. These countries are most likely to vote with Britain in the Council of Ministers. But voting patterns in the Council of Ministers do not necessarily reflect the positions leaders will take on the British renegotiation. There is more at stake in negotiations on the British question than in ordinary Council votes on EU draft legislation.
- Cameron will also find allies among member-states that enjoy strong historical and cultural bonds with the UK, such as Ireland, Malta and Cyprus.
- Hungary and Poland will be Cameron’s closest allies in Central Europe. But like many other member-states, they will strongly oppose measures that would discriminate between their own citizens and the British.
- There are also several hardliners in other areas of negotiations. Austria, Belgium and Estonia do not share Cameron’s ideas for safeguarding the interest of euro-outs in the wider EU. And Spain is opposed to giving a greater role to national parliaments. But opposition from one or a few countries to a particular reform is unlikely to torpedo the entire reform package.
- The majority of member-states is prepared to meet Cameron halfway on most of his demands. Germany, France and Italy will be pivotal. If Cameron strikes a conciliatory tone and keeps his demands modest, they will help him and encourage hardliners to follow suit. But if Cameron bangs the table and questions fundamental principles of the European project, they will take a harder line, complicating his efforts to forge an agreement.
Proposal: David Cameron wants the EU to adopt measures that will boost the EU's competitiveness and restore growth in Europe. He wants further deepening of the single market and a reduction of EU red tape.
The interviews with Portuguese and Croatian officials were conducted before parliamentary elections in these countries. The interviews with Romanian experts were conducted before the resignation of the government led by Viktor Ponta.
This interactive map builds on the interviews with officials and experts from all member-states and on our knowledge of their European policies. Our interlocutors shared their opinion on governments' possible negotiating stances. The CER recognises that member-states' views will evolve as the negotiations progress, and it welcomes feedback on changes in member-states' positions.