By Eliza Gray/London
February 2, 2016

European Union President Donald Tusk released a draft on Tuesday of a proposal to renegotiate the United Kingdom’s terms with the E.U. The proposals will likely be discussed at the next E.U. summit in mid-February. The proposals aren’t binding, but they offer the first glimpse of what the new terms between the E.U. and the U.K. could be. The British people will vote on whether to stay in the E.U. under the new arrangement in a referendum expected as early as this summer.

The proposal addressed four different areas of concern expressed by Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron:

1. “Economic Governance:” The proposal states the rights of non-eurozone members, such as the U.K., should be respected and they should not be compelled to participate in any deepening of the economic and monetary union.

2. “Competitiveness:” This is another promise in the proposal to reduce red tape in E.U. regulations to make it easier for businesses to operate in Europe.

3. “Sovereignty:” The proposal suggests a change to E.U. law that would give European national parliaments more power in the E.U. legislative process. Some analysts say the threshold for this new power to kick in is so high, that it is unlikely to ever be used.

4. On social benefits and free movement: This was the most concrete of the proposals in the draft, and the most important politically. One proposed amendment to E.U. law would allow countries to index child benefits to the standard of living in the country where the migrant comes from, if that migrant has left the child at home. In other words, if someone from Poland moved to the U.K. for a job, but sent money to his family back home, his child would still be eligble for child benefits, but they would be comensurate with the standard of living in Poland, which is lower than that of the U.K.

The second proposed amendment dubbed an “emergency brake” by the British press, would allow a “safeguard mechanism” when member countries have an inflow of workers of “exceptional magnitude” to restrict access to certain welfare benefits for a period of four years. The proposal’s language is a little opaque on how sweeping these benefits restrictions could be, because they suggest that the limits should be “graduated” from an “initial complete exclusion,” meaning that some benefits might have to kick in sooner than four years. Though this was probably the biggest concession for Prime Minister David Cameron, the proposal is vague enough that the practical affects are not yet clear. For example the proposal does not explain what constitutes “exceptional magnitude,” or for how many years a country would be able to restrict these benefits to incoming migrants.

At this stage, it is a compromise that both sides seem happy with. In his letter with the proposal, E.U. President Tusk wrote: “To my mind it goes really far in addressing all the concerns raised by Prime Minister Cameron. The line I did not cross, however, were the principles on which the European project is founded.”

Upon their release, Cameron responded: “Sometimes people say to me, if you weren’t in the E.U. would you opt to join the E.U? And today I can give a very clear answer: if I could get these terms for British membership I sure would opt in to be a member of the E.U. because they are good terms and they are different to what other countries have.”


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