Will Cameron get what he wants? Anticipating reactions to Britain’s EU reform proposals

Thursday, 29 October 2015
CEPS Commentaries
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Authors: Steven Blockmans & Stefani Weiss

Series: CEPS Commentary   No of pp: 3 + 4 (appendix)

After months of speculation about the British Prime Minister’s specific demands in terms of the “renegotiation” of the UK’s relationship with the EU, David Cameron has bowed to pressure from the heads of state or government of the other EU member states and committed himself to setting out the UK’s specific “concerns” in writing by early November. While we cannot be certain of the contents of David Cameron’s missive to the EU, his recent pronouncements before Parliament set out an agenda whose contours have become quite clear.

In this Commentary the authors consider how far the other EU member states might be willing to accommodate Cameron’s demands and provide him with the political capital he seeks to lead the ‘in’ campaign. They distinguish four different attitudes among EU countries, and advocate a constructive approach that sets the scene for a Convention after 2017 – one that opens the treaty for a revision that could accommodate both the British demands for an ‘opt-out’ from ever closer union and gives leeway to those who wish to integrate further. Putting emphasis on strengthening the single market in the more immediate term would allow the Prime Minister to show his home audience that he is a leading reformer and that the EU gives oxygen to the British economy.This is an obvious area where he might be able to seal deals during the UK’s Presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2017.

The authors also consider what the European Council Conclusions on the UK’s wish list for EU reform might look like, given that any treaty revision before the time set for the UK referendum is unattainable. They present the results of a two-day simulation exercise involving a cross-section of national experts and present mock European Council Conclusions on the areas of ever closer union; the role of national parliaments; competitiveness; economic and monetary integration; and the free movement of labour.

Steven Blockmans is Head of EU Foreign Policy at CEPS and Professor of EU External Relations Law and Governance at the University of Amsterdam. Stefani Weiss is Director of the Brussels Office of the Bertelsmann Stiftung. This Commentary is the result of work on the project “The UK and the EU: Simulating the agendas for EU reform” conducted jointly by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and CEPS.