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Analysis: A success or a failure?

Video in which Anthony Salamone interviews Prof Drew Scott (The University of Edinburgh) on the UK's EU renegotiation.
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So, I’m Professor Drew Scott. I’m Professor of European Union Studies and Co-Director of the Europa Institute, in the School of Law, at Edinburgh University. So, Drew, Prime Minister David Cameron ‘renegotiated’ the UK’s terms of EU membership in the latter part of 2015 and early 2016. How common is it for countries to try to do something like this? Very uncommon. The only country that’s ever renegotiated its terms of membership before was the UK, and that was back in 1974, where the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson, under the same kind of pressure that David Cameron was under, decided that the way to have credibility in the UK was to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership - then only two years old.
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All other countries negotiate their terms of membership when they join the European Union, and renegotiation is unheard of, with the exception of the UK. To what extent was the UK’s EU renegotiation a success? Depends on how you determine success. It was a success insofar as David Cameron managed to exact concessions from the EU, which frankly some of thought were unlikely when he went into the discussion. So, for example, the limitation on in-work benefits that migrant workers to the UK will experience - if this is agreed - that limitation was not expected to be given. On the other hand, what he said he was going to do in his Bloomberg Speech - he hasn’t managed to deliver everything.
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So, there was a view in the Bloomberg Speech that the concessions he was going to wrestle from the European Union would allow him to discriminate against migrant workers much more than has been allowed. So, yes he’s been successful in wrestling concessions out of the EU which some of us felt were difficult to wrestle, but, no, frankly, he hasn’t really matched up to the rhetoric that he launched in 2013 in his Bloomberg Speech. The renegotiation includes a new opt-out for the UK on ‘ever closer union’. How significant is that concession and what does it mean in practice? Its significance has yet to be seen. Technically, the UK - we’ll have to have a referendum…
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we’ll have to have a reform of the EU treaties for that exemption, that opt-out, to be guaranteed, because any change in the treaty - the obligations on Member States in the treaty has to be agreed by treaty reform. Many people think it’s simply a form of words. That already the European Council had agreed that powers could revert back to Member States, if the EU agreed to that. So, the EU is not a unidirectional, ever-closer-union machine in the way that some people conceive it to be. So, in some senses, it’s a form of words, which meets the sovereignty undertakings that David Cameron gave, and in practice it probably won’t mean much.
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On the other hand, you could argue, one could argue that what David Cameron has done is, in principle, establish that the European Union can be a multi-speed Europe. So, if it comes to another treaty reform,
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David Cameron can say: we want to opt out of something the other Member States want to agree to, and we can do that on the basis that you’ve agreed we are no bound by this principle of ever closer union and what you’re trying to do is an ever closer union. So, it’s given successive UK governments a possibility of arguing against their inclusion in a treaty reform process, in elements of that reform they’re not very happy with. What does the UK’s EU renegotiation do for its relationship with the Eurozone and further integration in the euro area? Here, David Cameron’s been relatively successful. He’s got a concession - or an agreement at least - it’s not clear it’s a concession.
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But he’s certainly got an agreement that the UK financial services sector, and that was his big concern, the UK financial services sector will not be adversely affected by futures developments, whatever they may be, in the Eurozone. There was a concern, particularly by the Chancellor and by the Prime Minister, that, if the Eurozone integrates more, then it may be that financial centres outside of the Eurozone countries would be discriminated against. Now, that wasn’t likely, because the EU treaties prohibit discrimination in the single financial market. But there was a concern.
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So the concession, or the agreement, that David Cameron has got from the other countries is that, regardless of where the Eurozone goes - and we have no idea where it will go, in those terms - the UK’s financial services interests will not be discriminated against. So, that’s an important concession. Much has been made about whether the EU renegotiation is legally binding. How much force does the deal really have? Politically, it’s got a lot of force. The heads of government of Member States have agreed this is binding on them.
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So, the things they’ve agreed upon, for example, the ever closer union opt-out, for example, the sovereignty issues and giving national parliaments more power - the ‘red card’, as it’s called - if 55% or more of national parliaments opt against a proposal - the decisions on in-work benefits and the limitations that will be applied to migrant workers accessing in-work benefits and child benefits. These have been politically agreed. In that sense, they’re quite sound, and they will be taken forward.
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The difficulty is that the European Court of Justice - and this is particularly relevant when it comes to in-work benefits and the so-called ‘emergency break’ whereby a country can say: migrant workers claiming in-work benefits is undermining our social service system. That agreement may not stand up to the scrutiny of the European Court of Justice, if a migrant worker in the UK, who falls foul of the new rules, who feels that they have been discriminated against because they don’t have full access to in-work benefits on a par with British workers, they may seek redress with the Court of Justice in Luxembourg, and we simply don’t know what the Court of Justice will decide.
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It certainly is not bound by that agreement, which is an agreement to change secondary legislation. The Court of Justice is bound by anything that’s changed in the treaty, but we haven’t had a treaty change yet.
Anthony Salamone and Drew Scott, Professor of European Union Studies and Co-Director of the Edinburgh Europa Institute at the University of Edinburgh, discuss the implications of David Cameron’s EU renegotiation.
(Videographers: Tim Askew and Andrew Pryde)
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