David Cameron’s Euro wishlist: Can he get what he wants?
By Matthew Hudson
On the 10th November 2015 David Cameron sent a letter to the European Council President Donald Tusk concerning Britain’s relationship with the European Union.
In the letter David Cameron outlined that he wanted: protection of the single market for Britain and other non-euro countries; a boost in competitiveness through the reduction of red tape; the exempting of Britain from an “ever closer union”; and restrictions on EU migrants’ access to in-work benefits such as tax credits.
It is clear that the idea of restricting EU migrants’ access to in-work benefits is designed to dissuade them from coming. However, Matthew Goodwin, politics professor at the University of Kent, has said that restricting migrant benefits won’t stop EU migrants coming to the UK. This shows some of the problems with Cameron’s proposals.
Criticisms of the proposals have inevitably come from Eurosceptics such as Nigel Farage who argues that the Prime Minister has made “no promise to regain the supremacy of Parliament, nothing on ending the free movement of people and no attempt to reduce Britain’s massive contribution to the EU budget.” However, members of Cameron’s own party have criticised him as well, with John Redwood asking for “much more” as he felt the proposals were not “anything like the protection we need.” In the House of Commons, Conservative backbencher, Jacob Rees-Mogg told the Europe Minister and MP for Aylesbury, David Lidington “you must know that this is pretty thin gruel – much less than people had come to expect from the government.” This demonstrates how many feel that these proposals don’t go far enough.
On the other hand, many understand the restrictions that Cameron faces when it comes to EU reform. A spokesperson for Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, has said the proposals were “highly problematic.” Britain has in the past raised problems with the freedom of movement, which is regarded as a key principle of the EU. Martin Schultz, who is President of the European Parliament, has gone as far as to say that the 4th proposal of Cameron’s goes against the EU law.
But the idea of increased restriction on EU migration might become easier after Friday’s Paris attacks where over 128 people were killed. President François Hollande managed to declare a state of emergency and the closing of France’s borders hours after the attack occurred. It was also suggested that in the future there may be more restrictions on migration to try and prevent terrorists travelling through Europe. This may help Cameron negotiate a different relationship with Europe over areas like migration, as it could bring France and Hollande on to his side.
Cameron does stand a chance, even without the recent events, of getting some of his proposals, as many European leaders appear open to some form of a negotiation. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that: “Some points are more difficult than others, but given that we are working in the spirit of wanting to reach a solution, I am reasonably confident that we can succeed. Germany will certainly do its bit to help as far as European rules permit.” Commission President Juncker’s spokesperson has mentioned that the letter is the start of negotiations for a “fair deal for Britain which is also fair for all the other member states.” Thus, David Cameron stands a chance of getting some of his proposals through, if not all of them.
One key issue though, is that these proposals face potential opposition at home and abroad. Many in Britain want more independence from Europe, something Europe is disinclined to give. When writing this letter, Cameron had to come up with the compromise between these two views and that is what the letter to Tusk is. Cameron arguably should have asked for more freedom for Britain than he has done but he would be highly unlikely to achieve it. Cameron would have more success in Europe if he asked for less but that would lose him support at home.
It appears then that Cameron’s letter asked for all it could get away with asking. Either way his letter is unlikely to be at the forefront of the minds of the people of Europe after the events on Friday night.