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26 October 2015

POLITICO: Commission looks to sideline Parliament on UK reforms

Brussels considers ways to move Brexit talks forward more quickly.

European Commission officials are looking for work-arounds to avoid Parliamentary meddling in possible legislative reforms leading up to the U.K.’s referendum on EU membership.

Not content to wait for British Prime Minister David Cameron to spell out his reform demands to EU leaders in early November, Commission officials on a special “Brexit” task force are exploring legal scenarios in which they could make changes without direct input from the European Parliament, according to sources familiar with the effort.

The task force “is looking at how far they can go without involving the European Parliament legally,” said an EU official who requested anonymity.

The Commission — worried that the escalating refugee crisis is worsening the chances of a British In vote — is pushing for the U.K. to hold its referendum as soon as May of next year. Since Cameron has been reluctant to put forward his proposals for reform, Commission officials led by task force head Jonathan Faull have had little to work with in laying the groundwork for negotiations.

Reading the tabloids

Until actual talks can begin, Faull’s team has kept itself busy trying to guess what Cameron will want by parsing the Conservative party manifesto, as well as political speeches and articles in British papers, according to sources.

The task force has also been looking at legal options officials consider do-able outside of treaty changes — which, because they require the consent of all 28 EU countries, take a long time to approve.

In particular, officials said, they’ve been focusing on immigration. This is a contentious topic for the EU, but one where Cameron’s demands have not been vague: He’s clearly stated his desire to curb welfare benefits for EU migrants. [...]

Commission officials said a non-legislative political resolution would be the ideal outcome for immigration reform, an issue on which the Parliament tends to be divided when it comes to workers’ rights and social welfare. Economic reforms are seen as easier to get through the Parliament, where majorities can usually be cobbled together by the center-right European People’s Party and European Conservative and Reformists Group and the centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

“It’s the sensible thing to do,” a Parliament source said of the decision to look for ways to avoid legislative conflicts. “It’s difficult to find a majority in the Parliament on immigration. It’s very sensitive when it comes to the non-discrimination of other EU citizens.”

Full article in POLITICO


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