EU leaders resume their meeting this morning with one conspicuous absentee. David Cameron is locked out of deliberations – the first time in more than 40 years that a UK prime minister has been excluded. Better get used to it.
Last night saw one of the more awkward dinners in recent diplomatic history, as Mr Cameron tried to explain the meaning of Brexit to his sombre European counterparts. Read more
AfD supporters march in Saxony-Anhalt, one of the German regions with elections Sunday
Germany’s anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland party found itself without a home in the European Parliament on Tuesday after the assembly’s European Conservatives and Reformists group, the political home of Britain’s Tories, gave them a firm push out of the door.
In the tersest of one-sentence statements, the ECR confirmed it had “invited” its two AfD members to leave. Just in case they didn’t get the message, it went on to say that, if they choose to stick around, “a motion will be tabled to expel them” at the next meeting of the group’s executive on April 12.
The decision by the ECR to open its doors to the AfD after the party’s success in the 2014 European Parliament elections was a headache for David Cameron from the start. The move was an embarrassment at a time when the the British prime minister was trying to improve relations with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor who saw AfD as threat to her Christian Democrats on the right. Read more
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“Let me tell you where I’ve got to, which is, um, I am, um….I’ve made up my mind.”
With these words, Boris Johnson bounded into the Brexit camp on Sunday, jolting Britain’s EU referendum campaign into life. A summit-weary David Cameron had barely caught up on his sleep on Saturday morning when the Mayor of London emailed to let his old pal know he would take the opposite side. There was no reply. Less than 10 minutes before going public, Mr Johnson sent the British prime minister a ‘courtesy’ text. The two men enjoy one of the most cut-throat, competitive personal rivalries in British politics (they have literally wrestled on the floor of Downing Street). That rivalry is now set to engross Britain’s June 23 referendum on EU membership. Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister, tweeted “the country’s future had been reduced to uni chums arguing”. “Blond Bombshell” cried The Sun’s frontpage; “Boris Goes In for the Kill” said the Daily Mail; and “Out for Himself” declared the Independent.
Old Brussels hands know what it is to be trolled by Boris Johnson. Read more
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Britain's David Cameron leaves the EU summit building at 5:30am on Friday morning
If you’re reading this morning’s note to find out if David Cameron sealed his “new settlement” deal to change the UK’s relationship with Brussels at last night’s EU summit, you’ll have to wait at least a few hours more. The first night’s debate over the British prime minster’s renegotiation plan was more contentious than many expected and left leaders deliberating into the early morning hours, with the session breaking up just before 2:30am.
After the summit ended, Mr Cameron went off for a private conversation with Donald Tusk, the European Council president who has been brokering the deal, to decide how to proceed at today’s session, which is due to start at 11am – though officials warned that could slip since the summit’s dinner debate on migration went on for more than five hours, longer than organisers had planned. Mr Tusk was to have separate bilaterals with France’s François Hollande, Belgium’s Charles Michel and Czech premier Bohuslav Sobotka before leaders reconvene, and sherpas and lawyers were working away through the morning to draw up another draft text for summit’s second day. “We have made some progress, but a lot remains to be done,” a tired-looking Mr Tusk said before heading off to his meeting with Mr Cameron.
The FT Brussels bureau’s Brexit watcher Alex Barker has pulled together all the blow-by-blow colour from last night’s session, including Mr Cameron and Mr Tusk frightening of the assembled leaders by warning talks may last into the weekend. Alex’s story relates how Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister who is no stranger to marathon summits, was among the more annoyed premiers in the room, wondering aloud why they were debating the nuances of the phrase “ever closer union” when the EU was at risk of “disintegrating” over its mounting refugee crisis. Read more
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Crews prepare the EU summit building for Thursday night's high-stakes gathering
Ever since Donald Tusk, the European Council president, began chairing EU summits just over a year ago, they have frequently been far shorter and more tightly-scripted affairs than those run by his predecessor, Herman Van Rompuy. Sometimes gatherings scheduled to run two days are cut short by an entire day, something that never happened under Mr Van Rompuy. So it is a measure of the two-day summit that begins today – where leaders are hoping to finally lock down an agreement on Britain’s renegotiated relationship with the EU – that on the eve of its commencement, those running it are still not entirely certain how the schedule will unfold. “We still don’t actually have a set-in-stone running order,” lamented one EU diplomat involved in the summit’s planning.
Mr Tusk’s ultimate goal is to get all 28 national leaders to agree the “new settlement” demanded by David Cameron, the British prime minister, by Friday morning over what one senior EU official only half-jokingly termed an EU “English breakfast”. That could enable Mr Cameron to announce the date for his referendum on Britain’s EU membership back in Downing Street that very afternoon (most now expect it to be held in late June). But how Mr Tusk is actually going to get to a Friday morning agreement will be partially improvisational.
The one thing organisers do know is that the “British question” will be the first thing on the agenda, shortly after the presidents and prime ministers arrive at 5pm. After a “tour de table”, officials said Mr Tusk expects to take stock of where negotiations stand and then task lawyers and sherpas to start drafting any revisions to the current text he has prepared. The senior EU official said there will be a “war room” filled with lawyers who will attempt to get any political deal into legally-binding language. Read more
We’ve got our hands on the final pre-summit draft of the UK’s “new settlement” deal, sent to member states by Donald Tusk, the summit’s host, in the early hours of this morning.
There are not many changes from Tusk’s first version, published two weeks ago. A lot of the political issues have been left to the summit of EU leaders this evening. We’ve annotated a version of the main text, which you can view here. We’ve also run through the decision setting up an emergency brake for non-euro countries, which is here. I’m afraid Tusk provided no track marks in these drafts, making it difficult to see where the changes were made, but we hopefully spotted all the main issues and revisions. There are two particularly interesting tweaks:
1. City of London safeguards go to the summit:
This was not the plan. The officials negotiating this text wanted to sort the section on economic governance — basically outlining principles for coexistence between euro and non-euro countries — so that leaders weren’t subjected to a deep dive on financial regulation. But they failed to agree a key part that marked out turf on financial stability issues between national, eurozone and EU authorities. Pity the leaders — this is complex stuff. More details in the annotations.
2. The European parliament trigger for the benefits “emergency brake”? (SEE UPDATE)
This change is arcane but politically quite important for Britain and the European parliament. The text is revised to suggest the European parliament may have a say on the decision to trigger the “emergency brake” allowing the UK to restrict benefits to EU migrant workers. (In the earlier draft, MEPs had power over the legislation that would create the brake, but the ability to trigger the brake was left to EU member states.) This is super important for the bigwigs of the parliament — and very tricky for London.
UPDATE: A diplomat called to set us straight on the EP role in the emergency brake. A reference to a Council implementing act — basically bypassing the parliament — was removed. The language is a red rag to the parliament so it is a qualified win for them. But a reference to Council authorisation for the emergency brake remains, which we missed on first reading. That suggests the trigger is still in the hands of member states. One caveat: this area of law is incredibly complex and MEPs are a creative bunch when it comes to their powers and prerogatives. They could, of course, insist that the emergency brake trigger involves their sign-off as a condition for passing the law. Read more
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David Cameron, left, is greeted this morning by EU Parliament president Martin Schulz
It has become something of a newfangled tradition for European prime ministers facing a spot of trouble on the EU stage to make a ritual appearance before the European Parliament to explain themselves – though some seemed to be holding their noses even as they did so.
The precedent was set by Viktor Orban, the Hungarian premier, who in 2012 travelled to the parliament’s second home in Strasbourg to counter criticisms his government was becoming increasingly authoritarian following a new media law and judicial reforms that critics charged improperly consolidated power in his own hands. Just last year, Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, made the Strasbourg pilgrimage at the height of fears his bailout brinkmanship would lead to Grexit. And Poland’s new leader, Beata Szydlo, agreed to appear last month following criticism her new media and judicial laws were following an Orbanesque trajectory.
Which is why many in the European Parliament expected David Cameron would turn up to make his “new settlement” case to them ahead of this week’s high-profile summit, where he hopes to emerge with a “reform” deal he can sell to the British public ahead of an expected June referendum on EU membership. Mr Cameron’s reasons for courting the parliament are not just symbolic, as they were for Mr Orban, Mr Tsipras and Ms Szydlo. He needs MEPs to approve many of the migrant benefit restrictions he has won in negotiations with EU leaders, since they will have to be finalised through the EU’s normal legislative process.
But when Mr Cameron arrives in Brussels today, it won’t be to appear before the entire parliament meeting in plenary session. Indeed, it won’t even be a meeting with the parliament’s conference of presidents – which was the original plan, until someone in Downing Street realised the conference includes leaders of all the parliament’s’ political groups, including those headed by archenemy (and UK Independence party leader) Nigel Farage and French ultranationalist (and National Front leader) Marine Le Pen. Read more
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Donald Tusk, left, arrives at Downing Street for dinner with David Cameron on Sunday
There is a time in every EU policy debate when the technical becomes the political. That’s what happened yesterday when, after months of painstaking work by some of London and Brussels’ most seasoned mandarins, European Council president Donald Tusk published a 16-page “New Settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union”. The EU’s political leaders now have two weeks to decide whether they will sign onto the deal before a high-stakes summit where the agreement is to be finalised.
For those following the debate closely, there were few surprises. Critically, Mr Tusk’s proposal includes an “emergency brake” that will allow David Cameron, the British prime minister, a four-year limit on benefits to newly-arriving EU migrant workers – at least for a while, since how long he can keep that brake engaged remains to be negotiated. Also left unclear is the efficacy of a second “emergency brake” that would allow London to force eurozone decisions onto the agenda of an EU summit. How and when that brake can be pulled is a sticking point with France, which wants to make sure Britain cannot veto further eurozone integration efforts.
But by in large, the substantive fight is over and things now move into the realm of the political, both inside Westminster and in other EU capitals – most of which got their first look at Mr Tusk’s draft at the same time as the rest of the world. In London, the political hothouse that always develops over Europe heated up quickly. Even within Mr Cameron’s own cabinet, there were grimaces – and open challenges – among known euroceptics like Chris Grayling, leader of the House of Commons, and Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary. Avowed Brexiteers were less constrained. Steve Baker, leader of the Conservatives For Britain group, accused Mr Cameron’s Europe minister of being “reduced to polishing poo”. The reviews were about as kind in Britain’s popular press. The cover of the best-selling Sun tabloid shouts this morning: “Who do EU think you are kidding Mr Cameron?” The equally influential Daily Mail calls the renegotiation deal “The Great Delusion!” on its cover. Read more
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Mr Cameron and Mr Juncker at the prime minister's official country residence last year
David Cameron, the British prime minister, is due in Brussels today for a meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker – a session so important that he cancelled a trip to Denmark and Sweden in order to sit down with the European Commission president in person. The two men have a famously difficult relationship – Mr Cameron actively opposed Mr Juncker’s election as president, and was one of only two leaders to vote against him at a 2014 summit. But it’s less than three weeks before a high-stakes EU summit where Mr Cameron hopes to get a renegotiation deal that changes the UK’s relationship with Europe. So Mohammed must go to the mountain.
For months, the main sticking point in the British renegotiation talks – which have taken Mr Cameron on a grand European tour from Berlin to Bucharest – has been benefits for EU workers in the UK. Mr Cameron wants to prevent EU migrants from receiving in-work benefits for four years, something that would appear to run directly counter to EU treaties’ non-discrimination requirement.
The latest option under consideration is actually one that has been debated for several months – an “emergency brake”. The original idea would have allowed Britain (and other countries) to limit immigration from other EU members if it can prove government services like healthcare or schools were becoming overwhelmed by the strain. As our Brexit watcher Alex Barker reports, the new twist is that the “emergency break” would allow countries to limit work benefits, rather than immigration. In the past, Downing Street has been lukewarm to the “emergency brake” idea, especially since it would likely need vetting from Brussels before the brake can be pulled. But with time running out, and alternate “Plan B” options limited, Mr Cameron may be warming to the idea. Read more
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David Cameron, the British prime minister, went before his parliament on Tuesday to report on last month’s EU summit, where leaders for the first time debated his request for a renegotiated relationship with Brussels ahead of an in-out referendum at home. During the appearance, he dropped a bit of a bombshell: his ministers will be allowed to campaign for Brexit even if his government recommends staying inside the EU. “It’s never been my intention to strong-arm people into a position they don’t believe in,” he told the House of Commons.
That sets up the prospect of Mr Cameron, widely expected to campaign for membership once he reaches a renegotiation deal at February’s EU summit, on the opposite side of such government luminaries as Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary who was once Tory leader himself.
Our Brexit watcher in the FT’s Brussels bureau, Alex Barker, says that while the decision raised eyebrows even within his own party – and may lead many in Brussels to wonder what happened to the sacred British convention of a cabinet’s collective responsibility – there may not have been much else Mr Cameron could have done. Here’s Alex’s take on how Mr Cameron is tackling what may be his hardest Brexit task yet, managing his own party:
For some in Brussels, allowing British cabinet ministers to campaign against their government on such an existential question as EU membership will be bemusing, to say the least. Michael Heseltine, the europhile former cabinet minister, once said Cameron would be a “global laughing stock” if he lifted collective responsibility for the cabinet. Ken Clarke, another of the Tory party’s rare pro-Europeans, said it was a sign of the extraordinary challenge Mr Cameron faces in avoiding “splitting the part” as the referendum campaign revs up.
Britain's David Cameron addresses the press on his way into the EU summit on Thursday evening
David Cameron is in a hole. His flagship policy to curb EU migration – a four-year ban on benefits for migrant workers – looks doomed. When it was announced more than a year ago, Cameron was told it violated a fundamental EU principle of non-discrimination. If the EU stands for anything, it is ensuring EU workers don’t pay a higher effective tax rate on the basis of their passport.
This was flagged up by British officials at the time. Cameron nevertheless ploughed on. While Downing Street were drafting the Conservative party election manifesto, aides suggested leaving out the four-year idea. He ploughed on. When Mr Cameron preparing a letter to other EU leaders on his reform demands, he was told by Whitehall and Brussels the four-year ban was all but impossible and should be dropped. He ploughed on.
The final reckoning may come this evening. Cameron makes a make-or-break pitch for the idea. Having spent far too long trying to understand how the problem will be fixed, it may also be my last opportunity to inflict a benefit reform listicle on Brussels Blog readers.
So while there is still time: behold the nine ways Cameron’s four-year benefits saga may end.
On Tuesday, Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s first vice president who has been tasked with streamlining and overhauling the way Brussels operates, presented one of his signature initiatives – the so-called “better regulation” package aimed at scrutinising more carefully the rules Brussels imposes on businesses.
As the FT wrote after our hour-long interview with Timmermans, he is a relatively late convert to the Brussels reformist camp, having changed his view after a lot of soul-searching in 2005, when his native Netherlands voted against an EU constitutional treaty that he himself helped negotiate.
Perhaps Timmermans’ most notable contribution to the EU reform debate since then was a June 2013 Dutch government report he helped author that spelled out 54 different policy areas that should not be ceded to Brussels. Now Timmermans gets to practice what he preached – even more so, now that David Cameron, the newly re-elected British prime minister, has launched his attempt to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU focused on many of the same reform issues. Timmermans is widely expected to be the European Commission’s point man in those talks with London.
As is frequently our practice at the Brussels Blog, below we offer an annotated transcript of our interview. Timmermans’ responses have been slightly edited for clarity. We started with that 2013 Dutch report, since much of what Timmermans recommended back then appears to be part of his agenda now that he’s in Brussels – ideas that were also articulated in a November 2013 op-ed in the FT.
I didn’t know you would bring this up but you do because it clearly shows that what I think and what I want to do is more or less in line with what I proposed as foreign minister, and those who say, well, ‘He’s only doing this to appease David Cameron’ can see that I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time.
Actually, it all started with an op-ed that I wrote in your newspaper, and Jean-Claude Juncker picked up on that and when he asked me to do this with him, he referred to some of the ideas that I had written down in the Financial Times. So, this was very much part of his thinking and his programme, as it was in Martin Schulz’s thinking, and this is what they both brought forward in the electoral campaign.
David Cameron, with his Finnish counterpart Alex Stubb, at a summit in Helsinki Thursday
The much-anticipated “emergency meeting” of EU finance ministers David Cameron demanded last month to discuss the €2.1bn surcharge Brussels has levied on Britain begins today – though it is less “emergency” than Cameron may have hoped, since it’s actually finance ministers’ regularly-scheduled November meeting.
As we reported in today’s dead-tree edition of the Financial Times, Italy, the holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, will table a compromise plan at the meeting which would allow Britain – and the Netherlands, which has the second-highest bill, with €643m due at the end of the month – to pay the new EU tab in instalments.
This is unlikely to be enough for the UK, which is seeking both a delay in the due date and a reduction in the bill, but there are growing signs that its allies in the fight, including the Dutch, are inclined to support the plan.
Ahead of the meeting, Brussels Blog obtained a copy of the two-paragraph Italian proposal, and we’ve posted it here. The measure asks the European Commission to come back with an amendment to existing EU rules for paying such bills that would in “exceptional circumstances” allow countries to pay their surcharge in tranches instead of all at once on the December 1 due date. Here’s the key section: Read more
David Cameron and his wife Samantha after voting in last week's EU parliament elections
David Cameron’s anti-federalist group in the European parliament entered these elections looking a bit shaky. While anti-establishment parties were faring well, the polls for the ECR group were worrying. Cameron took a huge gamble when leaving the centre-right European People’s Party to form a eurosceptic bloc. Some ECR folk feared the group could unravel in the wake of the election.
Daniel Hannan, one of the ECR’s best known MEPs, dismissed the doom laden predictions from “half-clever commentators” (this correspondent included). He was correct; the speculation proved only half-right. The ECR have emerged in a solid position from the vote. It survived and its feathers are well preened for a beauty contest for the leadership of Europe’s eurosceptics. But the dynamics of the group are changing — and it poses some serious political dilemmas for Cameron.
1) The ECR is here to stay….
If it makes no new allies and loses no group members, the ECR will live on. The election results show it has cleared the rather arbitrary seven country official threshold to form a group (there are MEPs from at least 8 member states). At present though, their numbers are down. The ECR is projected to reach 45, a loss of 11 seats. The Tories and the Czech members both suffered at the hands of the electorate.
2) ….with reduced Tory influence
Perhaps as significant is the changing balance of power within the party. Read more
Does David Cameron now need a reopening of the EU's treaties more than Angela Merkel does?
We have hardly heard a peep from Britain on the latest leg of Europe’s banking union. It is natural enough given the UK will be outside the proposed system for shuttering shaky banks, which is primarily for eurozone countries. But do not imagine it is unimportant for London. Strictly in terms of David Cameron’s plans to renegotiate Britain’s place in the EU, there has perhaps been no more worrying a development in Brussels all year.
Why? Cameron’s renegotiation strategy is partly based on this assumption: the eurozone will need a banking union to survive, and a fully-fledged banking union will need a re-write of EU treaties before 2017. That necessity opens the door for Cameron to press demands to repatriate powers.
The trouble is that this week’s banking union negotiation is showing that Germany and the eurozone will go to great lengths to avoid giving Cameron the leverage he craves. In one senior EU official’s words: “Nobody wants to give the keys to the UK”. Read more
It’s hard enough to get 27 member states to agree unanimously on a seven-year, €1,000bn budget – as anyone following the latest EU summit wrestling match can attest. But completing an EU budget deal requires one more thing: the consent of the European parliament.
Martin Schulz, the German social democrat and parliament president, reminded EU leaders and the Brussels press pack of this fact on Thursday evening. In a mildly foreboding press conference, Schulz re-stated his threat that leaders should be prepared for MEPs to block any budget proposal that strays too far from the €1,033bn proposal submitted more than a year ago by the European commission, the EU’s executive arm.
“Yes, we are prepared to make savings, but we are not prepared to have the European Union budget simply amputated,” he said.
Schulz declined to say whether the latest €960bn proposal being considered by Herman Van Rompuy, the European council president, crossed the line from extreme weight loss to amputation. But he was clearly displeased. Read more
Ukip leader Nigel Farage at a European Parliament session in Strasbourg last year
Following prime minister David Cameron’s address on Britain’s EU future, there may not be two politicians in Europe spoiling for a fight more than the two men who are arguably the most high-profile members of the European Parliament: Nigel Farage and Guy Verhofstadt.
There’s one thing Britain’s foremost eurosceptic and Belgium’s most prominent European federalist agreed on: Within minutes of Cameron finishing his speech in London, both had blasted out e-mail responses lambasting it.
Farage, however, prefaced his criticism by saying he viewed it as the “greatest achievement to date” of his political group, the UK Independence Party, since it put Britain’s EU exit firmly on the agenda. Read more
David Cameron is now the only leader in Europe openly advocating the revision of EU treaties by a set deadline. He asserts that this will happen by 2017 because the eurozone will have to make “massive changes” to save the single currency.
But what if that is not the case? What if Britain is the main reason for a treaty revision? How would Cameron trigger a renegotiation?
The answer lies in Article 48 — to spare you from reading the text, here’s a summary of the hurdles it places before any advocate of treaty change: Read more
It is now become standard operating procedure: a big story breaks, and the Taiwanese news organisation NMA — which came to fame with its CGI take on Tiger Woods’s complicated love life — does its own unique interpretation of the event. Past favourites have included former British prime minster Gordon Brown’s temper tantrums and ex-US vice president Al Gore’s alleged harassment of a masseuse. Now, they’ve done Friday’s highly-anticipated speech by David Cameron on Britain’s future in the EU, complete with Bulgarians and Romanians storming Buckingham Palace and Nick Clegg in a Baby Bjorn: Read more
Finland's Jyrki Katainen, right, with Cameron during a visit to Downing Street last year.
In the run up to Friday’s big speech by British prime minster David Cameron on his country’s future in the EU, some of the loudest voices of concern have come from the UK’s closest allies, including Washington, Dublin and Warsaw.
In a meeting with a small group of reporters today in Brussels, Jyrki Katainen, the Finnish prime minister, added his voice to that list, saying that he cannot see what kind of competences Cameron could pull back from the EU.
“Being a member of the EU, and especially in the single market, you cannot kind of pick the raisins out of the bun,” said Mr Katainen, whose National Coalition party is closely aligned with British Conservatives on most major policy issues. “It’s very difficult to say what would be the competences that could be repatriated.”
Katainen added: “The EU without Britain is pretty much the same as fish without chips. It’s not a meal any more.” After the jump, we’ve transcribed the Finnish leader’s full remarks. Read more