After two long days of talks, the European Union agreed a deal late Friday to recast Britain’s EU membership at Prime Minister David Cameron’s urging ahead of an in-out referendum.
Here are details of what Cameron was hoping for, as laid out in a letter to EU President Donald Tusk in November, and what he has achieved through a series of compromises couched in often ambiguous diplomatic language:
– Immigration –
WHAT HE WANTED: Facing intense pressure from the public and his centre-right Conservative party over rising immigration, Cameron wanted to make EU migrants to Britain wait four years before claiming in-work benefits and state-subsidised housing. He also wanted to stop EU migrants claiming child benefit and then sending it back to their families overseas.
WHAT HE GOT: Amid opposition to his plans from eastern European states, Cameron secured an “emergency brake” for seven years on certain benefit payments to newly arriving EU migrant workers. A system will also be implemented, meaning the amount of benefits EU migrants in Britain can claim for children still living in their home country will be tied to local conditions there. This applies to new claimants but can be extended to current ones from 2020.
– Sovereignty –
WHAT HE WANTED: Cameron had several demands to address concerns that Brussels is exercising too much power over Britain’s institutions. He wanted to opt out of the commitment to “ever closer union”, a central pillar of the European project, in a “legally binding and irreversible” way. He asked for a “red card” allowing for a veto of legislation from Brussels by a majority of national parliaments. Cameron also urged the EU to do better on subsidiarity — the principle that decisions should only be taken at the EU level where necessary.
WHAT HE GOT: Cameron secured a carve-out on the issue of ever-closer union — treaties will be changed in future to make clear Britain is not committed to this. He also got his “red card” measure, though it requires the backing of 55 percent of the 28 national parliaments, making it likely hard to avail of in practice. On subsidiarity, Cameron also says he is set to bring in new measures to protect British sovereignty soon.
– Economic governance –
WHAT HE WANTED: Cameron wanted to ensure that the EU does not use Britain’s status as a non-eurozone against it. This area is particularly sensitive as it is home to Europe’s most important financial centre, the City of London. He asked for a series of “legally binding principles,” including recognition that the EU has more than one currency and that non-eurozone countries should not face discrimination.
WHAT HE GOT: Cameron says he has secured protections for the City to protect it against discrimination by eurozone states. He claimed that the EU had also recognised more than one currency “for the first time”. But the language in the agreement is vague, speaking of the EU facilitating “the coexistence between different perspectives”. European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker insisted that the deal did not include giving London a veto over eurozone issues. “The text makes that crystal clear,” Juncker added.
– Competitiveness –
WHAT HE WANTED: Cameron told Tusk that he wanted to cut red tape for business. He also urged the bloc to go further on ensuring the free flow of capital, goods and services so as to boost the economy.
WHAT HE GOT: Juncker has made improving EU competitiveness a priority so this area was less problematic, with the bloc agreeing to “enhance competitiveness” and take “concrete steps” to improve.