EU of­fi­cials see no quick De­cem­ber fix with Bri­tain

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BRUSSELS: Euro­pean Union lead­ers are not only un­likely to reach a deal next month with Bri­tain on its de­mands for re­form of the bloc but may not even nar­row dif­fer­ences at a preChrist­mas sum­mit, of­fi­cials and di­plo­mats said.

Af­ter a week of “con­fes­sional” meet­ings be­tween aides to sum­mit chair­man Don­ald Tusk and en­voys from other mem­ber states, which should con­clude to­day, peo­ple in­volved told Reuters many op­posed de­mands Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron laid out in a let­ter to Tusk two weeks ago. Cameron has set an end-2017 dead­line for a ref­er­en­dum on EU mem­ber­ship. In or­der to stay in, he says, Lon­don needs changes. The longer such ne­go­ti­a­tions with EU part­ners take and the more di­vided they be­come, the greater the risk he will fail to de­liver such re­forms.

One pro­posal many lead­ers ob­ject to is that im­mi­grants from EU states should wait four years be­fore re­ceiv­ing in-work ben­e­fits such as tax cred­its and sup­port for chil­dren liv­ing abroad. Of­fi­cials and di­plo­mats see that as dis­crim­i­nat­ing be­tween EU cit­i­zens on na­tional grounds, which they say jars with ba­sic EU treaty law. “The sit­u­a­tion is be­tween dif­fi­cult and very dif­fi­cult,” one of­fi­cial said late last week, af­ter more than 20 of the 27 other mem­ber states had had their meet­ing with staff work­ing for Tusk, the Euro­pean Coun­cil pres­i­dent whose job it is to forge com­pro­mise among the mem­bers of the Euro­pean Union.

The one-to-one meet­ings, a stan­dard EU pro­ce­dure, are in­tended to frame ne­go­ti­a­tions and there had been some hope in re­cent months that at least the bulk of a deal might be ready for the Coun­cil to en­dorse at its next meet­ing on Dec. 17-18.

But the of­fi­cial said it was hard to imag­ine that a deal would be reached at that sum­mit and that even con­struc­tive dis­cus­sions were not a cer­tainty: “Many coun­tries say they want more Europe, not less Europe. And Cameron wants less Europe.

“There is no agree­ment on in­di­vid­ual is­sues like the four years and no one will agree to dis­crim­i­na­tion.” A spokesman for the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment said: “We’ve al­ways been clear that what mat­ters is ad­dress­ing the con­cerns of the Bri­tish peo­ple. We’ll be driven by sub­stance not speed.

“The prime min­is­ter looks for­ward to a sub­stan­tive dis­cus­sion on the UK rene­go­ti­a­tion at the De­cem­ber Euro­pean Coun­cil.”

DOWN­BEAT

Cameron will have to work hard in the com­ing weeks to sway EU lead­ers to achieve a suc­cess­ful out­come to ne­go­ti­a­tions. Other EU lead­ers see him as fail­ing to show sol­i­dar­ity on mat­ters such as the in­flux of refugees to Europe and the euro zone cri­sis.

Ear­lier this month, the EU’s ex­ec­u­tive di­vided Cameron’s de­mands for re­form into three cat­e­gories: the fea­si­ble, the dif­fi­cult and the “highly prob­lem­atic”. The last refers par­tic­u­larly to curb­ing ben­e­fits for work­ers from other EU states.

Such curbs are a par­tic­u­lar dis­like of ex-com­mu­nist east­ern states like Tusk’s fel­low Poles, not just be­cause many of their cit­i­zens work in the wealth­ier west but also be­cause it is a touch­stone of their emer­gence from Soviet con­trol. One EU diplo­mat said that, while most want to see Bri­tain, the EU’s sec­ond big­gest econ­omy, re­main in the bloc, its de­mands posed com­plex prob­lems.

In ad­di­tion, the at­tacks on Paris, the con­flict in Syria and with Is­lamic State, plus the refugee cri­sis, will leave lead­ers with lit­tle time to ne­go­ti­ate with Cameron over the next month, the diplo­mat said. — Reuters

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