European Council on February 19, 2016 /

EU leaders have agreed a new settlement that will allow Britain to curb social welfare for EU citizens working in the United Kingdom. The deal drops the symbolic “common destination” aim for EU member states.

At the end of the EU summit in Brussels, the British Prime Minister David Cameron got the drama that might help him sell the deal to his voters back home.

Britain will be allowed to restrict in-work benefits for EU workers in the UK, curb child benefits and will be exempted from any commitment to further political integration into the European Union.

“We have achieved a legally binding and irreversible deal decided by all 28 leaders, strengthening Britain’s special status in the EU,” the Council President Donald Tusk said in a press conference on Friday evening.

Tusk said that discussion had been “long and often heated”.

The Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker noted that “everybody showed goodwill and flexibility” and that the deal was “fair for both sides”.

The deal “gives United Kingdom a special status inside the European Union,” Cameron said.

“Britain will be permanently out of an ‘ever closer Union,’ never part of a European super state. There will be tough new restrictions on access to our welfare system for EU migrants”, Cameron said.

“No more something for nothing. Britain will never join the euro and we have secured vital protection for our economy.”

Long talks before the settlement was agreed

The actual talks between the 28 member states on the British matter only got started at the end of the day with plans for a joint “English breakfast” turning into an “English lunch” and finally into a leaders’ dinner.

European Council on February 19, 2016 /

“English breakfast” turned into “English lunch”

Before the common meal, Cameron headed from one bilateral meeting to another.

Deal settles Europe “à la carte”

Britain – and every other EU member state – will be able to trigger an emergency brake mechanism giving EU citizens the right to claims for social benefits only after having worked for four years in the UK.

The mechanism can be applied for a maximum period of seven years without the possibility of being renewed.

Cameron had insisted that the emergency break for controlling welfare payments should last for 13 years, but he was beaten by the Eastern European countries, whose citizens will be most affected by the measure.

The agreement will also allow EU member states to index its child benefits paid out in EU member states other than the ones where the workers reside.

This measure will only apply to new claimants, but from 2020 onwards, the member states may extend this indexation to existing claims of those who already live in the country.

The text says that there will be no discrimination for non-euro members.

The heads of state or government concluded that measures to deepen the economic and monetary union “will be voluntary for member states whose currency is not the euro” and that “emergency and crisis measures taken to safeguard financial stability do not entail budgetary responsibility for member states that do not have the euro.”

Thus, the right to veto European financial rules, that Cameron had asked for, was not retained in the deal.

The deal also seals the possibility of a multiple-speed European Union. Repeatedly the possibility for member states to make their choices on how far they want to follow Brussels is mentioned in the text.

European Council on February 19, 2016 /

Deal also seals the possibility of a multiple-speed union

Some might opt for “enhanced cooperation,” as the deal states, making sure that “such processes make possible different paths of integration for different member states,” allowing “those that want to deepen integration to move ahead, whilst respecting the rights of those which do not want to take such a course.”

In an interview with French public broadcaster France Inter and during his press conference, the French President François Hollande reiterated the necessity to “move ahead” for the member states ready to deepen EU integration.

Asked about which countries could be included in this leading group, Hollande stayed vague, but mentioned the founding members.

The conclusions of the summit confirmed this move by stating that the different ways of integration “do not compel all member states to aim for a common destination.”

Indexed child benefits to be picked up by others

Despite these statements, EU leaders tried to play down the anti-European side of the text.

The fact that Britain has a “special status” within the EU is “nothing new,” Council President Tusk said after the meeting. “This is the essence of our common history.”

Juncker insisted on the fact that the foreseen derogations are limited in time. “I think that, if asked, the European Court of Justice will give green light to the decisions we have taken,” Juncker said.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the deal a fair compromise, containing “positive elements” such as the right for all EU member state to index child benefits.

“Germany can take benefit of this,” Merkel said. “I can well imagine that we will implement this measure.”

European Council on February 19, 2016 /

‘Germany can take benefit of this’

Cameron’s Yes campaign started

The British prime minister immediately started his campaign for Britain to stay in the EU at his press conference after the meeting.

“I believe that Britain will be stronger, safer and better off inside a reformed European Union”, Cameron said.

“I will campaign with all my heart and soul to persuade the British people to remain in the European Union.”

The British people will vote on the UK’s future in the EU in June. The exact date still has to be confirmed, Cameron said.

In case they vote No, the just concluded new settlement for the UK in the European Union will simply “cease to exist.”

  • Author: Daniele Weber, Euranet Plus News Agency
  • Photo credits: (all images) European Council on February 19, 2016 /

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