Guardian Reveals Cameron’s European Reform Proposals

The British leader would focus on migrants benefits and an opt-out from “ever-closer union”.

German chancellor Angela Merkel talks with Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom during a European Council in Brussels, March 24, 2011
German chancellor Angela Merkel talks with Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom during a European Council in Brussels, March 24, 2011 (The Prime Minister’s Office)

Britain’s The Guardian newspaper claimed to have obtained a list of Prime Minister David Cameron’s European Union reform priorities on Friday.

Cameron made his proposals for reform to other leaders in Brussels on Thursday and hopes to secure ample changes in Britain’s relations with the rest of the European Union to win a referendum on membership before 2017.

Among the most contentious issues he raised, according to The Guardian, was a four-year ban on European work migrants claiming benefits in other member states.

Germany, Europe’s most powerful country, has cautioned that such restrictions must not impede on the free movement of people across Europe — one of the union’s core principles.

But Denmark and the Netherlands share Cameron’s concerns, even if the number of foreign workers claiming benefits in the three Northern European states is low.

Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the leader of Denmark’s liberal party who is expected to replace Helle Thorning-Schmidt as prime minister, said earlier this week, “We need to strike a new balance between the free movement of labor and what welfare services those rights entitle a person to.”

Another one of Cameron’s demands was an opt-out from the European treaties’ commitment to “ever-closer union.” This is a largely symbolic commitment but a red herring for British Euroskeptics who say it impedes on their nation’s sovereignty.

Without treaty change, though, it is difficult to see how the United Kingdom could be exempt from the declaration.

Cameron also urged a renewed focus on competitiveness and growth by expanding the single market to cover all services and finalizing a trade agreement with the United States. This could meet resistance from more protectionist member states, like France, but is an altogether uncontroversial proposal.

Fourthly, Cameron wants safeguards to prevent countries that use the euro from imposing rules on the entire European Union.

This goes to the two-tier Europe Cameron’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, alluded to earlier this month when he said countries that want to integrate further should be able to do so “while respecting the interests of those that do not.”

It is unclear how other non-euro states feel about formalizing a division between the eurozone core and states that have not adopted the single currency. Countries like Poland, which are formally committed to eventually switching to the euro, might fear being relegated to second-class member states. Denmark and Sweden, which are uninterested in joining the euro, could be more sympathetic