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EU referendum: reform negotiations June to December 2015

Published Wednesday, December 30, 2015

This Commons Library briefing paper looks at the Prime Minister’s proposed reforms, the launch of the UK reform agenda at the European Council in June 2015 and EU institutional initiatives of relevance to the Government's reform agenda. It also considers the level of support for the UK from other EU Member States, the role – if any - of the devolved administrations in the negotiations, public opinion, the referendum campaigns and other recent developments.

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Proposals for EU reform

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has on various occasions over the last few years set out proposals for EU reform which he maintains would benefit the UK and the EU as a whole.

They can be summarised as follows:

  • No to “ever closer union” and decisions taken far from people
  • Eurozone integration must be fair to those inside and outside the single currency
  • Welfare incentives encouraging EU citizens to seek work in Britain must be tackled
  • Need to maintain competitiveness, jobs, growth, innovation and success

He pledged to hold an in-out referendum on continued EU membership by 2017 following a successful reform negotiation.

In the Prime Minister’s statement on 4 September 2015, David Cameron described the four broad areas in which the Government is seeking reform as:

  • Competitiveness
  • Sovereignty
  • social security
  • economic governance

Mr Cameron presented his reform agenda to the European Council on 25-26 June 2015 and this triggered a process of “technical talks” on what might be feasible, with or without Treaty change. These talks were held in private between EU and UK officials, with very little publicly available information.

Discussions so far

Since the summer David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Europe Minister David Lidington, and other ministers, have held talks with individual EU governments. These continued up to the December European Council meeting, at which the UK proposals were discussed over dinner.

In November the Prime Minister set out in detail his proposed reforms in a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk.

Labour’s position on Europe

The election in September of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader resulted in some uncertainty about Labour’s position on Europe, although since becoming leader Mr Corbyn has said he supports EU membership in a reformed EU.

International factors

The continuing economic problems in Greece and elsewhere affecting the stability of the Eurozone, and mounting pressure from refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from the Middle East and Africa arriving at the borders of the EU, may have had an impact on the negotiations.

Parliamentary activity

 

Devolved administrations

The reform negotiations are a reserved matter for the UK Government. The Cabinet Office Joint Ministerial Committee (Europe) provides a forum for the Ministers of the UK Government, the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to discuss EU business.

The devolved administrations have asked for more input in the negotiations and have published their own reports on the Government’s reform agenda and the impact of EU membership.

Further information

Publication details

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7311

Author: Vaughne Miller

Topics: EU institutions, EU law and treaties, EU political integration, Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Parliament

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