A letter that starts the renegotiation process – Cameron writing to Tusk

Updated Tuesday, 17th November 2015
What does David Cameron's 'list of demands' sent to the European Union actually mean? 

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European and British flags Politicians in Europe, whether being very pro EU or rather Eurosceptic, have been wondering what the renegotiations that the Prime Minister David Cameron was going to engage in with the European Union officials would be about.

In his speech in 2013, he was very clear that the European Union needed change and that the UK’s people would be given a say as to whether the future of the United Kingdom lies within or without the European Union: “For us, the European Union is a means to an end - prosperity, stability, the anchor of freedom and democracy both within Europe and beyond her shores - not an end in itself.” He went on to point out weaknesses of the Eurozone, free movement affecting the UK labour market and a lack of transparency and democracy.

Following this particular speech and others in the run up to the general election, the EU expected some details as to what changes it is that the UK wants to see implemented once Cameron was re-established as Prime Minister. Just like any party wanting to do business with another, it is quite understandable that the EU became a little impatient with noises being made about “urgent and necessary” reforms but no clear list of demands ever being submitted.

Finally, on November the 10th this year Cameron outlined what he and others have called a 'list of demands' in a letter to the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk. The Council is formed by the Heads of state or government of the EU Member States. It does not set, negotiate or adopt any EU laws but merely defines the EU’s overall political direction and priorities. Cameron’s letter outlines objectives, which from their tone do not come as a surprise. However, the document itself is far from presenting a detailed list of renegotiation conditions, Cameron. It boils down to a pandering to Eurosceptic commentators demanding an exemption of the “ever-closer union”, a restriction to access to benefits for the EU migrant and a precious status for the UK where the single market is concerned.

Some of the detail of Cameron’s list include claims that due to the high level of immigration, renegotiations on the terms allowing free movement and access to benefits are necessary. Although the Office for National Statistics suggests that more jobs were created than taken up by EU immigrants, it is claimed that benefit tourism is a main cause for the UK’s economy struggling. Net migration, which is calculated reducing the number of people immigrating, by the number of people emigrating, stood at 318,000 last year, which entailed 178,000 coming from the EU. Overall, about 2.3 Million people in the UK are EU citizens (obviously excluding those having British citizenship). It remains a question how about 1.6 % of the UK's population claiming benefits in addition to working can become an "unsustainable" burden for the welfare state.

Cameron’s wish list also voices concerns with regards to sovereignty. The goal to create an “ever-closer union” in Europe is seen as a threat to the UK’s sovereignty, although it has never been clearly established what this entails and whether the position of the Member States could differ from one another. Considering that the UK is already being treated differently in many aspects of EU law, naming the Schengen agreement, which establishes free movement as one example, it seems an empty demand. The UK is a strong partner to the EU which has proven to be negotiating its own terms multiple times. Does it now want to renegotiate the right to renegotiate?

An understandable concern of Cameron surrounds the fact that the UK is a member of the EU but not a member of the Eurozone. While it does not want to change that fact, it has to be assured that Eurozone Member States cannot pass European Union legislation affecting non-Eurozone Member States without them having any input, or safeguarding mechanism in place. However, with the UK already using the existing opt-out mechanism, which allows Member States to opt for not implementing certain EU law, and by doing so showing a very functioning understanding of the EU mechanisms in place, it is questionable what is really expected from the EU. Matters regarding the Eurozone at its core will have to be dealt with, even if the outcome affects non-Eurozone Member States. One could say it is the price you pay for independency from something and gives a good indicator on the future role of the UK in relation to the unified Europe, should the nation decide to leave the European Union altogether.

The talk is not so much about the referendum and the membership of the UK in the EU anymore, it is much more about the quality and impact of the renegotiations between the two. The status quo of the European Union, so to keep things as they are, was never a real option. Should you be one of the very few who is not looking for any kind of change, you will have to make your peace with the idea that life is going to be different by 2020.

By then, the referendum on the UK's membership to the European Union will have happened. In the run up to the new general election Cameron will have to show how his European Union policy has changed the UK’s standing in this Union for the better.

What are your thoughts? Have your say using the comments section below

External Links

Summary of 2013 speech
Link to BBC outline of demands
Follow the progression of the Bill in both Houses of parliament A guide to this referendum
What's on David Cameron's EU wish list The European Council 

This article is part of an EU Referendum Hub. To find out more from the official 'leave' campaign visit 'Vote Leave' and to find out more from the official 'stay' campaign visit 'Britain Stronger In Europe'.
Please note: The opinions expressed in this hub are those of the individual authors, and do not represent the views of The Open University.



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