Europe’s bête noire is migration. Not just the one getting flows of people from Syria or from North Africa, but also the movement of European citizens from one Member State to the other, looking for better living conditions.
While governments of Member States of the South and East of Europe are calling for solidarity in order to cope with massive flows of migrants from land and sea, even in the U.K. – where you usually arrive stepping out of a plane – the fight against ‘the foreigner’, even when this foreign person is actually a European citizen, seems to be the issue to be solved. The enthusiasm shown by David Cameron in welcoming the proposal made by Donald Tusk in response to British claims, aimed at avoiding a possible Brexit and far from being revolutionary – is a sign of the times. The plan suggested by Tusk is no revolution, but has a key strength: an emergency brake to “internal” migration.
Concerning the four baskets proposed by Cameron in fact, the only one on which Brussels is ready to make concessions is actually the regulation of benefits to EU citizens willing to take residence in the U.K. London (as well as any other government of the Union) would be authorised to limit the access of European citizens to welfare benefits in “exceptional cases.” E.g., too many applicants, too manu applicants in one instance, a difficult market situation which cannot guarantee all workers to be absorbed: governments would be allowed to ask the Union to stop in-work benefits for a total period of up to four years from the commencement of employment. The procedure would need the approval of the European Commission first and the vote of the Council of Heads of States or Government then – and sources of the Juncker’s team had already said they are available to support the U.K. Some formal step is now needed, but there’s a positive mood, governments of Member States seem ready to an agreement: Sherpas and Permanent Representatives will meet later week to have the first discussion of the proposal made by Tusk.
PM Cameron read the proposal and showed true enthusiasm: “If I could get these terms for British membership, I sure would opt in to membership of the EU,” he said. All the noise, the political hype on Brexit, everything boiled down to this, given that London got nothin on the other three issues under analysis (competitiveness, sovereignty and the relationship between € and non€ countries). The letter by Tusk is just an ‘explainer’ of existing procedures, but no change has been put forward, especially because on some subjects such as subsidiarity (kindly and very politically called ‘sovereignty’ here) are regulated by European Treaties which cannot be amended so easily. Even Tusk said that the Union should be “prepared to discuss the possible incorporation of the substance of a few elements covered by the Decision into the Treaties at the time of their next revision.”
The British Prime Minister is well aware – as he’s always been since day one – that he couldn’t obtain much more than this by negotiations, hence focused his efforts on a single issue, the one most dear and most clear to his citizens, the one on which he could make an easier campaign for the ‘No’ at the referendum on Brexit to come. Much ado about nothing? Maybe. It was all about regulating something which did not require an amendment of the fundamental principles of the European Union (whose crucial maintenance was reiterated by Tusk): Treaties are going to be kept as they are, and London won’t be authorised to have a word on the decision taken by Eurozone Members concerning their single currency. The mechanism of veto by some Member States on the laws and regulation of the Union, already widely regulated by Treaties, won’t be amended as well.
The rule on migrants obtained by London will apply to all other Member States as well, of course, even though the welfare offered in the U.K. cannot compare with the one offered in Bulgaria or even in Italy. This means the rule would be happily be accepted by all governments, in particular those – such as in France and Belgium – having a good welfare state. Brussels was then able to avoid the opening of a true Pandora’s box full of national claims which would have been inevitable in case of special concessions to the U.K. in terms of Internal Market or single currency management.
The things granted to Cameron – and to every other government of the Union – does not undermine the pillars of the Union: he didn’t get much, and if the EU lost something in terms of free movement of citizens, it also reiterated that the principle and the right of establishing residence in any Member States are still alive – there could be temporary limitations applied in case of “exceptional” circumstances acknowledged by the Heads of State or Government from time to time. It the agreement is kept like this, the Union will show its endurance, its usefulness and its ability to cope with the concerns of those most doubtful of the reasons for staying together.