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05 January 2016

SPIEGEL: Brexit Danger - The EU Strategy to Keep Britain from Leaving

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This summer, Britain will vote on whether to remain in the European Union. The skeptic camp appears to be gaining ground - and EU leaders are growing concerned. They have developed a plan to give in to most of Cameron's EU reform demands.

The victor in this game has already been determined. On Feb. 19 in Brussels, David Cameron will prevail with all of his most important demands. The British prime minister, to be sure, will be standing alone at the summit, faced with opposition from his 27 EU counterparts. But in the end, following tough negotiations, he will get his way.

Such is the result envisioned by EU leaders and in fact European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have already written the script for their own defeat. "We want Cameron to return to London victorious," say EU officials in Brussels, in an uncommon display of unity. In Berlin, a Chancellery official says: "We will be extremely helpful." Anything that isn't a complete betrayal of European values is negotiable, the Berlin official says.

Their goal is that of providing Cameron with the political tailwind he needs to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union. This summer, Cameron is planning to hold a referendum on Britain's future in the EU. Only if he returns from Brussels in February with a better deal for Britain does he stand a chance of reversing the widespread EU-skepticism that characterizes the country.

For Tusk, Juncker and Merkel, a Brexit would be a nightmare scenario, and one that they are seeking to avoid at all costs. It would shake the EU to its core and has the potential of setting off a chain reaction that could leave the entire union in tatters. Indeed, Marine Le Pen - leader of the right-wing populist Front National - has already announced that she plans to hold a similar referendum in France should she win her country's 2017 presidential elections. [...]

An Uphill Battle

[...] In the event of a Brexit, the union would have 13 percent fewer residents and its economic power would be reduced by 17 percent. Without London, the EU would be robbed of its only global financial capital outside of Frankfurt. "If we want to play a global role when it comes to development aid, environmental protection or security policy, then we need the British," says European Parliament President Martin Schulz.

Tusk, Juncker and Merkel are facing an uphill battle. Even if they are able to make Cameron look like the winner of the February summit, it is unclear if that will be enough. The opponents of Britain's continued EU membership have made up significant ground and many surveys now show them to be neck and neck with those who would like to see the UK remain part of the club.


Possible Solutions

Merkel too is disinclined to sign a document that discriminates against EU citizens. At least in principle. For Cameron's demand to be implemented, European treaties would have to be amended - and that is something that Merkel is open to. She would like to see treaty changes made in an effort to make the EU and the euro zone more crisis resistant. But with all 28 member states having to approve such amendments, years often pass before they are implemented and Cameron doesn't have that kind of time. He would like to finalize an agreement with Brussels and with his EU counterparts by February. [...]

It is unclear, though, whether such maneuvers could convince British voters to remain a part of the European Union. Indeed, Cameron had hardly returned home from the pre-Christmas summit in Brussels before the conservative press began bashing him. "His negotiations have exceeded even our lowest expectations," screeched the tabloid Sun. "It is already clear that he has demanded virtually nothing and will get even less."

The European Parliament's Committee on Constitutional Affairs likewise recognized during a visit to Britain that Cameron could be losing control of the situation. [...]

Full article on SPIEGEL

© Spiegel Online

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