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Cameron's smoke and mirrors

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The UK's Prime Minister, David Cameron, is not, by any reasonable definition, a true eurosceptic. Though he huffs and puffs to give the gullible an illusion that he might be, his actions prove otherwise. When pushed, he basically supports the EU as it is, though he might wish for a few minor tweaks here and there. In fact, Cameron has even called for further expansion of the EU, including Turkey's membership. His infamous "cast-iron guarantee" of 2007 was worthless after he broke his pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Political pressure from UKIP forced him to fulfil his second cast-iron guarantee made in 2014 and a referendum to leave or remain in the EU will be held on 23 June 2016. Cameron declared that it was "bloody hard work" to negotiate reform of the UK's relationship with Brussels. Beyond the bluster, we look for evidence of a real commitment to substantive change and the likelihood of it being achieved:

After prolonged posturing by Cameron and the EU elite, an ersatz 'reform deal' (see below) was agreed which allowed the UK's referendum to go ahead. Cameron's renegotiation goals were indeed lowly compared with the above robust list of possible demands. The deal has been much derided and is far from sealed, even if the UK votes to remain in the EU: it is subject to European Parliamentary approval and ultimately the judgements of the European Court of Justice. Furthermore, there is evidence that the EU is holding back highly contentious initiatives, such as a huge increase in the EU's budget, until after the referendum.

 

What Cameron wanted What reform deal offers

Sovereignty

A formal UK opt-out from "ever closer union".
National parliaments having more power to block EU legislation.

Recognition that the UK is not committed to further political integration into the EU. Substance of this is meant to be incorporated into future revision of EU Treaties.
There will be a legally binding provision to allow a group of 55% or more member states to either change or stop EU legislation.

Comments: Considering the UK's continual failure in the past to block EU measures which are not in our best interests, it is highly unlikely that legislation could ever be "red-carded" by building alliances exceeding 54% of EU states. French President Hollande has since said that the concessions made to Cameron do not require changes to existing EU treaties, but could be included in them "when there is a treaty revision procedure one day".
Some key changes had already been dropped: There will be no repatriation of EU social and employment law (a 2010 Conservative manifesto commitment) and there will be no changes to the working-hours directive.

Migrants and welfare benefits

The 2015 Conservative manifesto made several commitments:
EU migrants who claim tax credits and child benefit must live in the UK and have contributed for at least four years.
EU migrants only considered for council housing after they have lived in an area for at least four years.
Ending job-seeking benefits for EU job-seekers, and requiring them to leave if they have not found a job within six months.
Ending child benefit and child tax credit for migrants' children who live abroad.

In-work benefits: A graduated limitation of access to non-contributory in-work benefits, for a total period of up to four years. Applies only to EU workers newly arriving during a period of 7 years.
Child benefit: When sent to a child abroad, benefit will be linked to the cost of living in that member state.

Comments: Child benefit will still be sent abroad, but now with a multiplicity of rates. New rules would apply immediately for new arrivals, and for existing claimants from 2020.
UK government already reached an agreement on out-of-work benefits. Newly arrived EU migrants are banned from claiming job-seeker's allowance for three months. If they have not found a job within six months they will be required to leave. EU migrant workers in the UK who lose their job, through no fault of their own, are entitled to the same benefits as UK citizens, including job-seekers allowance and housing benefit, for six months.
No mention of changes to social housing entitlement.
Strong opposition from Poland and three other central European countries forced much compromise on these points.
Analysis has already shown that the much-vaunted "emergency brake" on in-work benefits will have almost no impact on net immigration figures.

Economic governance and safeguarding interests of countries outside the eurozone

Explicit recognition that the euro is not the only currency of the EU, to ensure countries outside the eurozone are not materially disadvantaged.
Safeguards that further financial union cannot be imposed on non-eurozone members and that the UK will not have to contribute to eurozone bailouts.

Measures to further deepen economic and monetary union will be voluntary for non-eurozone members. Mutual respect ensured between members regardless of participation in euro.
Countries outside the eurozone will not be required to fund euro bailouts and will be reimbursed for central EU funds used to prop up the euro.
Level playing field re-emphasized regarding financial and banking regulation within the internal market.

Comments: Though acknowledging that the EU has more than one currency, it does not go as far as mandating multiple currencies. France wanted to underline that UK would not win any "exceptions to the rules of the EU", particularly in relation to regulation in the City.

Competitiveness

A target to cut the total regulatory burden on business.
To do more to ensure the free flow of capital, goods and services.

EU will make all efforts to fully implement and strengthen the internal market, as well as to adapt it to keep pace with the changing environment.
EU will take concrete steps to lower administrative burdens and compliance costs and repeal unnecessary legislation.

Comments: Hardly controversial and what the EU should be doing as a matter of course. However, previous promises by the EU to tackle these issues have not been adequately kept.

Revised 20 May 2016

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