Cameron to discuss EU membership

Today, Prime Minister David Cameron will meet other EU leaders to discuss changes to Britain’s membership of the EU. Cameron is aiming to alter Britain’s position in the EU, ahead of the referendum to come no later than 2017.

There are four main areas that Cameron wishes to address. British sovereignty; allowing Britain to opt out of the EU’s founding principal of ‘ever closer union’, so as to avoid further political integration. This also involves giving national parliaments greater power to block EU legislation. Boosting competitiveness, by setting targets to reduce the burden of excessive red tape. Safeguards in the form of not having to contribute to future Eurozone bailouts and that further financial union cannot be forced upon non Eurozone members. There is a general consensus on these three areas by all 28 member states of the EU. This is key, as all members must agree to any reforms. However, there is disagreement on immigration, with Cameron wanting to restrict access to benefits for new migrants.

Ministers are seeking tor restrict in work and out of work benefits for EU migrants, until they have been residents for four years. They also want restrictions on access to social housing, claiming child benefits for dependents outside the UK and removing migrants if they have not found work in six months. These changes would serve the purpose of lowering immigration into the UK, given that a limit on immigration is impossible due to the principle of free movement within the EU. A lot of these issues are contentious and seen as being discriminatory to eastern European citizens, the source of a lot of UK migration. As all member states have to agree this is the area that could prove to be a sticking point.

The rest of the EU does not wish for the UK to leave, but there is a limit to how many demands they are willing to accommodate. Angela Merkel, has stated she would like to make a deal that would result in a successful vote for the UK to remain in the EU, but made it clear she would not ‘call into question the core principles of European integration’.

The problem the UK and EU face is that of the British public. A referendum is set for 2017, although it could be called earlier. Polls suggest that under a renegotiated EU membership, the UK would vote to remain in the EU. However, if the demands about benefits are not met the yes camp only has a 3% lead.

No deal is expected to be made this week, but it would serve to pave the way for an agreement at the next gathering of EU leaders in February.

Image via flickr, Number 10.

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Reuters: Business News