With the second day of the EU summit in Brussels in full swing, Prime Minister David Cameron is again trying to convince his counterparts to agree to his deal for Britain to stay in the EU.
But according to an article in the Financial Times, Cameron’s efforts might be in vain as European leaders believe there are more pressing issues on the EU’s agenda.
The two sides talked past each other last night to such an extent that one senior EU official told the FT he was worried “This could be another bad case of them misreading each other.”
For David Cameron, this summit is his last chance to secure a renegotiated deal with the EU, which he could use to campaign for the “Remain” camp in the referendum on Britain staying in the union.
For every other European leader, the summit is about the migration crisis.
Both sides seem to regard the other’s concerns as trivial and beside the point, and neither side realises how important the other’s issues are.
Greece’s Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, said that although they had to help the UK, “the UK has only got a referendum in June. We have a crisis hitting us today.”
On Friday though, Tsipras changed his stance again, saying that if every EU country did not agree to keep their borders open until the next EU-Turkey meeting in March, he would not agree to the Brexit deal.
Cameron is standing firm on issues such as a curb on child-benefit payments that go to children who do not live in the UK, an emergency brake for in-work benefits for foreign nationals living in the UK, and a possibility to distance itself from the “ever-closer union.”
Those issues are not of great importance to many other countries in the EU. The child benefit issue only costs the UK £30 million a year. And Eastern European countries now want the emergency brake on in-work benefits for migrants to only last for five years instead of a maximum of 13.
Other leaders still seem to think those issues should be addressed at a national level rather than during an EU meeting. Portugal’s Prime Minister, António Costa, said that it was “disappointing” that Cameron was discussing domestic political issues during a meeting of the European Council, the FT reported.
Only Angel Merkel seems to understand that the danger of a Brexit — the world’s 5th largest economy leaving the EU — is real. According to the FT, she encouraged leaders throughout the debate not to get sidetracked by treaty-change promises that would probably only be realised in a few years. “We have to be generous,” the chancellor said.
Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, also tried to convey how dire the situation was. Ireland went through its own referendums on EU reforms in 2008 and 2009. He told leaders that “winning a referendum was harder than winning an election.” Mentioning that Cameron’s party was divided and that the UK media was stacked against the EU, he urged leaders to “give him the tools for this fight.”
Cameron for his part has announced he was ready to extend talks until Sunday, signalling to European leaders that he was determined to get the deal he wants before the summit is over.
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