Why It Matters

Concessions to keep UK in EU

British Prime Minister David Cameron is embarking today on a gruelling tour of European Union capitals, in an effort to persuade his continental counterparts to approve proposed new terms for Britain's membership in the bloc.

Many EU governments resent the idea that Britain should be granted special treatment just because it is the most awkward member in their club. And quite a few are angered by the extent of the concessions Britain wants. These include an exemption from the requirement to grant EU citizens who go to the country the same welfare benefits enjoyed by Britons. Britain also wants to be consulted about financial regulation inside the euro zone, despite having refused to adopt the EU's single currency.

But although leaders in most EU states resent what they are being asked to do, they are also likely to grant Mr Cameron his wishes, in the hope that this would make the EU more palatable to British voters in the run-up to a referendum on whether Britain should stay in the union, likely in June.

 
  • Package's key points

  • The head of the European Council, Mr Donald Tusk, has unveiled a draft reform package to help keep Britain in the European Union, with the following key points:

    MIGRATION BENEFITS

    Without changing treaties on free movement of labour and barring discrimination, the EU proposed an "emergency brake", limiting those fundamental rights where vital national interests or economic stability are at risk.

    EURO ZONE

    The EU said on Tuesday that no British company or citizen would face discrimination because they use the pound as a currency. The EU is also offering Britain a way to slow down euro zone legislation that it does not like, although it does not offer any veto rights on euro zone decision-making.

    NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY

    The Tusk package explicitly states that Britain is not committed to further political integration into the EU. The EU also offers to allow a simple majority of national Parliaments to stop legislative proposals from the Commission.

    COMPETITIVENESS

    The least contentious British demand for less red tape and more economic dynamism has broad backing so a set of declarations will echo EU policy, but with elements to show Britain that Brussels is listening.

For there is a growing realisation in most European capitals that if Britain votes to leave the EU, that will have a catastrophic impact on the continent, and may well lead to the EU unravelling. Britain often acts as a balance between France and Germany, the continent's other giants, and that is crucial for smaller EU member-states.

The British are also admired for the quality of the civil servants they send to the EU, and their commitment to free trade and an open market, both of which have helped Europe to prosper. And were the British to leave the EU, that would have a huge impact on European defence arrangements as well; the British are acknowledged to have one of Europe's best militaries and security services.

For all these reasons, Mr Cameron is likely to proclaim a diplomatic victory at the end of his tour, by getting approval on most of the concessions he needs. But that won't make him very popular with his European counterparts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2016, with the headline 'Concessions to keep UK in EU'. Print Edition | Subscribe