The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has circulated a draft proposal on the UK’s request for renegotiation of the terms of its EU membership, to be considered in detail by the 27 other members states ahead of the European Council meeting on 18-19 February.
The measures presented in the proposal seek to address the “four concerns” raised by David Cameron. In brief:
- Eurozone governance: the proposed text includes a safety mechanism that would let non-Eurozone countries request that issues affecting the Eurozone be referred to a summit of all EU members for further debate; but they would not have the power to veto a final decision. The document also addresses – indirectly – the UK’s demand to change the EU’s goal of an “ever closer Union” by recognising that the UK does not support further EU political integration; and it promises that “the substance of this will be incorporated into the Treaties at the time of their next revision.”
- Competitiveness: the draft proposal suggests simplifying legislation, reducing the burden on business and cutting “red tape”.
- National sovereignty: under the proposal, member states would be able to discontinue consideration of a particular piece of draft legislation, provided that a certain number of national parliaments objected to it under certain circumstances: the precise number of national parliaments and the circumstances in which the provision could be invoked have not been agreed and will be decided at the Summit.
- Welfare benefits for EU migrants: this issue appears to be the key point of disagreement between member states: instead of the four-year ban on migrants claiming tax credits and other in-work benefits that has been requested by the Prime Minister, the draft agreement proposes an “emergency brake” on benefit payments, which will be a time-limited, exceptional response to an exceptional situation.
Further negotiations will take place on the draft proposal ahead of the next meeting of the European Council.
- Tomorrow (Wednesday), MEPs will discuss the topics for the next European Council at the Plenary Session of the European Parliament.
- As noted above, the European Council Summit will be held on 18-19 February.
- If a deal is agreed by all the Member States at the European Council in February or March, the UK’s in-out referendum is likely to be held in June 2016.
This issue of UK membership of the European Union may seem light-years away from “law & religion”: but not so. EU membership is now absolutely basic to the way in which the governance and legal system of the United Kingdom impinge on the daily activities of religious organisations and religious charities: environmental standards, employment rights, taxation and intellectual property are just four of the areas which are heavily influenced by EU legislation and the decisions of the Court of Justice.
Whatever one’s view of the advantages or disadvantages of EU membership, it is surely undeniable that, legally and constitutionally, the UK outside the European Union would be in a very different situation from the way things are at present – for good or ill.