This Commons Library briefing paper looks at the Prime Minister’s proposals for EU reform, which he set out in a letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, in November 2015, concerning four broad areas: economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty and free movement. It also looks at Donald Tusk’s package of draft texts to address UK concerns, their implications and prospects for agreement.Jump to full report >>
What did David Cameron ask for in his bid to change the UK's terms of EU membership before holding a referendum on whether to stay in or leave the EU?
What has the European Council President Donald Tusk come up with by way of a draft deal and will it be acceptable to the other Member States and the UK electorate? What's been going on behind the scenes?
On 10 November 2015 the Prime Minister set out his demands in a letter to European Council President, Donald Tusk, A new settlement for the United Kingdom in a reformed European Union. It concerned the four broad areas of UK reform: economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty and free movement.
In January 2016 there appeared to be growing optimism among EU and UK negotiators that a deal of benefit to both the UK and the EU could be achieved and agreed as a legally binding Decision of the Heads of State or Government within the existing EU legal framework. Any Treaty changes that were necessary could be made later on.
The most problematic of the Prime Minister’s demands has been the proposed restriction on in-work benefits over a period of four years, which other Member States, especially those in Central and Eastern European, are likely to find discriminatory and unpalatable.
Further integration is needed to achieve full Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) for those States whose currency is the euro, but any further measures aimed at deepening EMU will be voluntary for non-eurozone States.
Non-eurozone States must not create obstacles to further eurozone integration, but there will be respect for the rights and competencies of non-participating Member States. This mutual respect will include:
After the adoption of final texts, the European Commission will submit proposals for amending existing EU secondary legislation to:
This will involve the receiving Member State obtaining prior approval from the Commission and the European Council to restrict access to in-work benefits to the extent necessary.
A Member State will be allowed to limit the access of new EU workers to in-work benefits for a period of up to four years from the start of employment. The restriction will be graduated as the worker becomes more integrated into the labour market.
Reaction to the Tusk drafts has been mixed, and the Prime Minister has yet to convince some other Member States, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, and the European Parliament that they are beneficial to the whole EU rather than just UK ‘cherry-picking’, and not discriminatory. The negotiations are continuing at EU and bilateral levels.
The date of the referendum is not yet known, and will to a large extent depend on whether there is agreement at the European Council meeting on 18-19 February.
The campaigns to leave and remain have already begun but are expected to intensify in the coming weeks. David Cameron has said members of his government are free to vote on either side in the campaign after the negotiations have concluded.
If the final agreement is satisfactory the Prime Minister intends to campaign to stay in the EU.
Recent opinion polls put the Leave campaign narrowly in the lead.
Commons Briefing papers CBP-7497
Author: Vaughne Miller