UK’s Cameron hails Brussels proposals to keep Britain in EU – Kansas City Star
Proposals to change Britain’s relationship with the European Union reflect “real progress,” but more work must be done, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday.
He spoke after European Council President Donald Tusk unveiled proposals aimed at keeping Britain in the 28-nation European Union. The proposals would make it possible for British lawmakers to work with European counterparts to block unwanted EU laws and also recognize that Britain now faces an “exceptional situation” regarding the influx of immigrants taxing Britain’s social services.
“So, real progress, more work to be done, more detail to be nailed down, but we said we needed to deliver in four key areas; this document shows real progress on that front,” Cameron said about the proposals.
Cameron, who needs to convince skeptical members of his own Conservative Party that staying in the EU serves Britain’s needs, is seeking concessions ahead of a planned referendum on whether Britain should remain part of the EU. That vote may be held as early as June.
He said the document delivers the “substantial change” he had sought.
“On so many things, I was told these things would be impossible,” he said. “I said I wanted a red card system for national parliaments to block legislation. People said you wouldn’t get that. It’s there in the document.”
He also cited progress in his concerted bid to make migrants wait before claiming welfare benefits in Britain.
It is not clear whether the document will placate many Britons who have come to resent the EU’s rule-making power and worry about the arrival of more than 1 million people fleeing war and poverty on European shores in the past year.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage, an outspoken advocate of taking Britain out of the union, called the draft proposal “truly pathetic” since it involves no change to EU treaties, no restoration of Britain’s powers or its ability to control its borders and its laws. He said it does too little to limit welfare payments to migrants and does nothing to close Britain’s “open door” to new arrivals.
“There is no fundamental reform, there’s some fiddling around the edges on migrant benefits,” he said.
His criticism was echoed by others who want Britain to leave the union. Conservatives for Britain leader Steve Baker said the deal “smells funny.”
The draft deal was made public in a letter to EU leaders. It must be endorsed by Britain’s EU partners and is set to be thrashed out at a summit in Brussels on Feb. 18.
“To my mind it goes really far in addressing all the concerns raised by Prime Minister (David) Cameron,” Tusk wrote. “The line I did not cross, however, were the principles on which the European project is founded.”
He said maintaining the EU’s unity is the key challenge for the bloc. It has been tested by the unprecedented migrant influx, several financial crises and Britain’s growing disenchantment, which may spur it to go it alone. More compromise is needed or the bloc will fail, Tusk said.
Tusk proposed that more power be given to national parliaments to potentially block legislation. The plan would not bind Britain to deeper EU integration, a goal enshrined in the EU’s Lisbon Treaty.
He said the proposals safeguard the rights of countries like Britain that do not use the euro currency.
On the contentious issue of benefits for EU migrant workers, Tusk says that EU treaties must be respected, but he suggests there is room for maneuver by saying that current rules on the free movement of people could be clarified.
The EU’s executive Commission has drawn up a “safeguard mechanism” which could be used for Britain to respond to “exceptional situations of inflow of workers” from other EU countries.
The plan aims to meet the concerns of Britain about its membership terms and perceived loss of sovereignty to Brussels without requiring time-consuming changes to the EU’s legal treaties.
Cameron wants to hold a referendum by the end of next year on whether Britain should leave the EU, with this June already shaping up as a possible time for the vote.
Experts from EU nations are due to meet Friday for a first joint discussion of the proposals, hoping to pave the way for an agreement at the summit.
While it is a full member of the EU, Britain is often seen as having one foot in and one foot out, with the right to opt out of certain legislation, particularly in the areas of justice and immigration.
But Cameron’s push to hold a referendum has raised troubling questions about the future of the European project at a time when a refugee emergency and economic crisis in Greece weighs heavily on the bloc.