Well, do ya? An update on the UK’s renegotiation demands, focusing on its four key areas: the Eurozone, Migration, Regulation and Sovereignty.

In our December 2015 edition of the Brussels Agenda, we included an article about the British Government’s renegotiation demands regarding Britain’s membership in the EU.

The demands covered four key areas: guarantees of the rights of non-Eurozone members; the reduction of excessive regulation; migration (in particular access to benefits); and a British opt out from the ‘ever closer Union’.

Since then, one major development is that Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, will announce further ’concrete proposals’ for discussion at the Council’s summit on 18-19 February - proposals that presumably will follow on from his letter of 2 February.

That letter outlined what might amount to a provisional deal between Mr Cameron and Mr Tusk:

  • Eurozone - ‘necessary reassurances’ on the concerns of non-eurozone countries, but these ‘cannot constitute a veto or delay urgent decisions’ on eurozone policies. Mr Tusk’s letter states that British taxpayers’ money can never be liable to support the eurozone.
  • Regulation - a common ground for the Commission and many of the EU’s Member States, the letter says that the EU and its members ’will make all efforts to strengthen the internal market and to adapt it to keep pace with the changing environment’, boosting competitiveness, and that the EU ’will regularly assess progress in simplifying legislation and reducing burden on business so that red tape is cut’.
  • Migration - an ‘emergency brake’ on in-work benefits for non-UK EU citizens for up to four years if there is exceptional pressure on a particular Member State. This break would be ‘graduated’ and would have to be approved by the Council. There will also be limits on the ’export of child benefits’.
  • Union v Sovereignty - The proposed deal states that the ’ever-closer union’ is ’not an equivalent to the objective of political integration’ and that the UK has a ’special situation’. A ‘red-card’ system is proposed, which would allow a group of national parliaments making up more than 55% of votes on the Council to be able to veto EU legislation. The document also contains a strong commitment to the principle of subsidiarity.

The deal has (along with Mr Cameron) come under criticism in the British media and amongst some Eurosceptic MPs, but was welcomed by Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and some formerly sceptical members of Mr Cameron’s party.

The head of the Commission’s Brexit taskforce, Jonathan Faull, has expressed hopes that February’s meeting will be ’a decisive one’. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has stated that substance, rather than timing, is important.

However, a growing number of voices are sceptical of a February deal for several reasons (demonstrated by the recent renegotiation ‘war games’ organised by Open Europe), and one reason in particular. While some see Mr Cameron’s softer demands (e.g. less regulation) as achievable, a serious challenge remains on the topic of access to in-work benefits for non-UK EU citizens. Mr Cameron wishes to have such citizens, if they are new arrivals, wait for four years before benefits can be claimed.

The renegotiation is being played out in the shadow of the looming Brexit referendum, whose date has not yet been set (though it has been guaranteed by the end of 2017) - if, however, the referendum were to go ahead in 2016 (as seems to be desired by Mr Cameron), then the renegotiation would have to be concluded by then if it is to have a certain impact upon the referendum’s outcome. The ‘In’ campaign hopes that a successful renegotiation will lead to the British public voting to remain in the EU.