Will UK's Cameron reap rewards at Thursday's Euro summit?

The European Union seems likely to capitulate to Britain's reform proposals at the Euro Summit on Thursday. Why is giving in better than the alternative for the EU?

Yves Herman/REUTERS
A Union Jack flag is raised next to European Union flags ahead of a visit from Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on Tuesday.

Representatives of nearly 30 European nations will gather together on Thursday to discuss immigration and Britain’s proposed exit (or “Brexit”) from the European Union (EU). Those who oppose a “Brexit” hope that Thursday’s conference can find some common ground.

Britain has been discussing the potential for a “Brexit” for some time. After David Cameron’s re-election to the post of Prime Minister in 2015, he embarked on a quest to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership in the EU.

In a November letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, Mr. Cameron enumerated principles that Britain hoped the EU could embrace, including preserving sovereignty and competitiveness and immigration reforms.

Although France has traditionally been the country that is most reluctant to make special deals with Britain, Tufts University professor Dr. Enrico Spolaore says that in this case, “the largest opposition comes from Eastern European countries.”

This is because many of the immigrants that would be impacted by Britain’s new welfare policy towards immigrants could be from Eastern European countries. Under Cameron’s proposed reforms, immigrants would not qualify for the same level of welfare as British citizens. The issue of immigration in Europe as a whole is also on the agenda for Thursday.

Thursday’s talks could be critical to the future of the EU.

“Some people in the EU appear to be unconcerned if UK does vote to leave,” says Kostas Lavdas, a professor in the Fletcher School for international relations at Tufts, “as they don't see the potential implication of the start of the breakup of EU as a whole. But most do.”

While some have taken a pessimistic view of the talks, predicting a collapse of the European Union if Britain votes to leave the EU in a referendum this summer, others cite the EU’s determination to keep Britain as a member as a reason for optimism.

"I am not entering into the details of a plan B, because we don't have a plan B, we have a plan A,” said European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, “Britain will stay in the European Union as a constructive and active member of the Union."

Others, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are also invested in preserving the Union. It seems likely, says Spolaore, that there will be many concessions after the Euro Summit.

Indeed, it seems likely that many of the reforms Cameron is advocating will be passed. The BBC reported on Tuesday that many influential members of the European Parliament support the reforms, and consequently Britain’s continued presence in the EU.

“All three [members of leading factions] made clear their support for the proposals on the table,” said Cameron’s office in a statement, “and said they were ready to take any necessary EU legislation through the European Parliament swiftly.”

Some say that if the EU makes exceptions for Britain, it will set a precedent for all member countries. Once the rules are opened for Britain, any country may attempt to gain exemption from one or more of the EU’s rules for membership.

Reuters reports that at least one parliamentary official expressed concern for the future of European government after a pro-reform vote, saying the legislature is unpredictable: “It can be monkeys with guns."

Due to the current level of instability in Europe, however, some economists and political scientists say that despite the precedent it could set, it is best for all that Britain remains in the EU.

“An agreement may to some extent reaffirm the continuing potential for a multiple-speed Europe, an anathema for federalists,” says Lavdas, “But a Brexit would be the worst-possible scenario for all concerned.”

In general, the outcome of the talks could see a trend towards an increasingly flexible EU. “The idea of having a common federal policy amongst 28 member states is Utopian,” says Spolaore, “I’d like to see a more practical solution.”

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