After months of speculation about the British Prime Minister’s specific demands in terms of the “renegotiation” of the UK’s relationship with the EU, and propelled by the launch of the ‘in’ and ‘out’ campaigns for the future referendum, David Cameron has bowed to pressure from the heads of state or government of the other EU member states assembled at the European Council of October 15th. He has committed himself to setting out the UK’s specific “concerns” in writing by early November. While we cannot be certain of the contents of David Cameron’s missive to the EU, the contours of the UK’s demands have become clearer over the past few weeks. In speeches by himself and several of his cabinet members, and with leaks to the media,1 the Prime Minister has experimented with the attainability of some of his four key demands. [...]
Whereas all other member states are of the view that the UK should remain in the EU, one can nevertheless distinguish four different attitudes among EU countries.
First, there is a grouping of ‘anglophile’ member states, especially those that have a lot riding on Britain not leaving the EU, either because they are geographically close to the UK, or because their economies are considerably integrated, and/or because they share a similar outlook on the European integration process. Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands belong to this grouping of ‘all-weather friends’ of the UK (see M. Leonard, Britain in EU: Renegotiation Scorecard, ECFR 2015), even if they differ on issues such as free movement.
Second, there is a group of countries, mainly from Central and Eastern Europe, keen on economic reforms to strengthen the single market and wary that deeper eurozone integration might be to their detriment, but which also care deeply about free movement and welfare benefits and will not budge under British pressure to give in on these issues.
A third grouping consists mainly of southern member states like Italy and Spain, also keen on strengthening the single market and cutting red tape, especially for SMEs, but which are not in favour of reversing the trend of ever closer union. They also care about maintaining the acquis on intra-EU migration.
Finally, there are two important swing states: France and Germany, which increasingly see differentiated integration as the only way to forge ahead with like-minded states, for instance on strengthening the architecture of the Economic and Monetary Union, on which they will not give the UK any veto rights. [...]
In conclusion, Westminster cannot simply expect to be the sole demandeur at the negotiating table. The UK will have to show solidarity with other member states’ desires to shape the European Union. Cameron should be realistic about what is achievable by 2017. It would therefore seem advisable that he refrain from pitching his demands too high – no higher than the level of ambition expressed before Parliament on October 19th. He should also adopt a more constructive approach that sets the scene for a Convention after 2017, opening the treaty for a revision that could accommodate both the British demands for an ‘opt-out’ from ever closer union and giving leeway to those who wish to integrate further. Putting emphasis on strengthening the single market in the more immediate term would allow the Prime Minister to show his home audience that he is a leading reformer and that the EU gives oxygen to the British economy. This is an obvious area where he might be able to seal deals during the UK’s Presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2017. [...]
© CEPS - Centre for European Policy Studies
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