At an upcoming EU summit, leaders are hoping a deal with David Cameron to avoid a UK exit from the European Union could also help to tackle multiple crises.
The British prime minister wants a tougher line on migration, a shift of power back to national governments, and less regulation to make Europe more competitive.
Or could the reforms undermine EU authority, leaving Europe weaker and more divided? Some EU leaders say a UK vote for Brexit should not be avoided at any cost.
The stakes are high. Some economists say Brexit would have a “devastating” impact, relegating Europe to a second-rank world power, while cutting UK GDP by 2%.
Wired into this edition of the Network here at the European Parliament in Brussels:
Nina Schick who is Communications Director at Open Europe, which some consider a Euroskeptic think tank, though it insists it is not. It says the EU is not working and needs more reform.
Giles Merritt Secretary General of Friends of Europe, a think tank promoting a confrontation of ideas and wider involvement in Europe’s future.
And Guntram Wolff the Director of Breugel that’s an independent economic think tank here in Brussels.
Can EU leaders accept a deal with the UK that essentially a lot of people think is the EU a la carte?
Nina Schick: “I know that Cameron’s reform agenda is often seen as Britain cherry picking. However when you look at the crises in the EU, from the economic ongoing crisis to the migration crisis and a competitive crisis others would argue that this reform agenda is actually putting straight to the heart of Europe tough choices about its existential direction and where it wants to go as an organisation.”
euronews:Chiles is this a new a la carte?
Giles Merritt:” I think when it comes to a la carte it is only a snack. I think Britain had a banquet a la carte 20 years ago so it is really quite irrelevant.”
euronews: Guntram a la carte?
Guntram Wolff: “Yes i think leaders are ready to give freedom and some more sovereignty back to Britain but that does not go that far as to allow the EU law not to be applied in the UK.”
euronews: But doesn’t this mean, isn’t this more a la carte and could this mean an undermining of the EU institutions, Giles?
Giles Merrit: “I don’t think so I think the EU does require reform internally in a number of ways. They are not particularly on Cameron’s menu.”
euronews: An ally close to Angela Merkel says that the proposed deal that Mr Tusk made in the letter gives the UK a number of opt outs from the EU rules as “testing the pain threshold” Could this deal be unacceptable maybe to some leaders, could we see a head-to-head and a stalemate here?
Nina Schick: “I don’t think so. I think European leaders especially those involved at the highest level of the negotiation realise that it is very serious as Cameron has to sell this deal to the British public and if he doesn’t get anything on certain issues that he has put forward on this reform agenda there is a very real possibility the UK would leave the EU which I think would be economically be a big blow for the EU and a symbolic blow as well which I don’t think the rest of the EU leaders want to stomach.”
euronews: Yes but if too much of this opt out and exceptions are given couldn’t this open up Pandora’s box, couldn’t other EU members be asking also for their kinds of opt outs. I mean Britain is not the only one with opt outs.
Guntram Wolff: “Well I think the UK is quite special in many respects already now the UK has the biggest number of opt outs compared to all the other countries and if you think about the eastern European countries that are not yet in the euro most of them really would love to stay in the EU and would also like to stay also closely associated with the different mechanisms for defence even the euro is still a possibility because it is seen as protection also against the fear of Russian military power.”
euronews: One of the very key changes that are offered to the UK is this idea about migrant workers that there could be a sort of new arrangement, a different arrangement if there is a large flow of migrant workers and a lot of British citizens are concerned about the flow of migrants into their country but could this help to solve this current migrant crisis or will it make it worse? What do you think Nina?
Nina Schick: “Well obviously there are two very different issues here. One is the refugee crisis which in the UK debate is conflated with the question with intra EU migration. I think when it comes to intra EU migration, free movement of workers – Cameron – that is one area where he has to get something back because that is the area where the British public care about the most getting some changes. I don’t think it has anything to do with racism I think it is something to do with control. They want to think the government has control over the number of people that come into the country.”
euronews: But it has to do with withholding a certain amount of benefits to migrant workers who come in large numbers and that is the same thing that is being talked about with the refugees, Guntram.”
Guntram Wolff: “Well look I mean for the numbers are very clear. First of all the UK benefits from the migrants coming from other EU countries. Second of all there’s very few, very little welfare migration. The empirical evidence shows clearly people do not migrate to the UK because of some welfare benefits bur because of job opportunities because of other life opportunities so at the end of the day, yes I am in favour of giving some safeguards there but that should not be, I mean it is really a sideshow in my view.”
euronews:Yes but Giles doesn’t this make it safer or easier for other countries to crack down on their migrants, read refugees.”
Giles Merrit: “No. I think for me too the factor is exaggerated. I agree with Nina and with Guntram that the real problem is to make the British voters understand the refugee crisis is not the same as the right to work in other EU countries which has been a major advantage to the UK economy.”
euronews: OK let’s talk about the benefits a little bit here. The Independent newspaper listed them in a recent article – easier travel with the EU, with the British in the EU there is retirement in other EU countries, a more level playing field to do business across the EU, consumer and environmental protection. Aren’t those reasons to stay in the EU or could those reasons be reasons to leave?
Nina Schick: “Well I the British understanding of the whole EU debate, this has been something that has plagued the UK public for 40 years. It has been an existential crisis and they don’t want to feel, they signed up to a trading area, and they done’t want to be part of any political union and that really gets to the crux of what the British people are saying. Can the EU be flexible and incorporate different levels of membership or is it going to be a one size fits all model where I think if it’s going that way the UK would opt to leave eventually.”
euronews: And if the UK does opt to leave, Guntram you would be the best one to ask about this, the economic impact if they did leave both for the UK and as well as for the EU.
Guntram Wolff: “Well I think as always in these things it depends. It depends on what kind of arrangement is being found afterwards but one thing is for sure if there is a ‘No’ vote on the referendum on the day we will see significant market movements and we will see a very lengthy and painful process of renegotiation of the access to the single market but also of all other trade agreements with the rest of the world which the UK would have to renegotiate.”
euronews: And then Giles the political aspect because some people say the UK out of the EU is going to mean that the EU is gong to have much less political clout but it is already pretty much a soft power it doesn’t have a lot of hard power. What would be the real impact there.
Giles Merrit: “The real impact would be to display to the world that the EU is not going to speak to one voice. I just want to come back on something that Nina said. She said it was an existential problem in Britain. I think it is emotional speaking, as a Brit. The British have this view of themselves as not being European but when they are rational, when they come to vote in the referendum I think they will stay in.”
euronews: Now let me ask very quickly at the very end here now how much of this is backlash. The middle class in Britain after the financial crisis that they are just mad as heck and they are blaming the EU for it and that is why they want out. Do you see it that way Nina?”
Nina Schick: “I would argue against that idea because the UK economy is doing fairly well compared to many other EU countries, we are on track to do pretty well, this is not a backlash from the financial crisis, this is an issue that has been bubbling over for 40 years and I think the UK public now wants to know whether or not they can be in an EU which they are comfortable with which is primarily a trading relationship.”
euronews: And Guntram do you see this as…. what about the aspect of eurocrats here – it’s like in Washington and they are beaten up by the rest of Americans – is it the same here in Europe where you have a lot of Europeans are angry at people in Brussels talking over their heads. How much of that is a factor there, how do you address that?
Guntram Wolff:“I think this is part of the factor but let me add I think the fundamental issue here really is that the eurozone is a strong player which holds the majority in EU decision making and those outside will want some safeguards and to some extent these safeguards should be given because the eurozone does indeed hold the majority in all the decision making processes.”