The European Union summit reached a deal on February 19 to keep Britain in the organization with «special status». It paves the way for the UK to hold an in/out referendum on EU membership expected on June 23.
At the summit held on February 18-19, EU leaders agreed unanimously on a package of measures aimed at keeping Britain in the Union. Their legally binding decision granted the UK an exemption from the founding goal of «ever closer union», offered concessions on the welfare rights of migrant workers and protection of national currency.
The British Prime Minister (PM) David Cameron said, the EU provided the concessions he sought, including assurances that the other nations won't try to make Britain part of a «European superstate».
«There will be tough new restrictions on access to our welfare system for EU migrants», he said. «No more something for nothing. Britain will never join the euro, and we've secured vital protections for our economy and a full say over the rules of the free trade single market while remaining outside the euro».
Britain would maintain full access to the EU’s free-trade market and benefit from Europe-wide cooperation on crime and terrorism. But Britain would not have to cooperate in «the parts of Europe that don't work for us», such as the euro currency and eurozone bailouts, Cameron noted.
The new deal includes:
• An «emergency brake» on migrants' in-work benefits for four years when there are «exceptional» levels of migration. The UK will be able to operate the brake for seven years.
• Child benefit for the children of EU migrants living overseas will now be paid at a rate based on the cost of living in their home country – applicable immediately for new arrivals and from 2020 for the 34,000 existing claimants.
• The amending of EU treaties to state explicitly that references to the requirement to seek ever-closer union «do not apply to the United Kingdom», meaning Britain «can never be forced into political integration».
• The ability for the UK to enact «an emergency safeguard» to protect the City of London, to stop UK firms being forced to relocate into Europe and to ensure British businesses do not face «discrimination» for being outside the eurozone.
It should be noted that the entire deal would be null and void if Britain votes to leave the EU.
Now the PM faces a campaign to convince the British people that they should choose to stay in the EU, his Conservative Party is divided on the issue.
The country also has to take into consideration the factor of outside pressure. For his part, US President Barack Obama has openly exerted pressure on the UK urging Britain to stay in the EU. The UK as a member of the EU «gives us much greater confidence about the strength of the trans-Atlantic union», Obama said in July.
But with migrant flows hitting Europe, the chances are high that Britons, fearful for their jobs and their national identity, will prefer to leave the EU. Eurosceptics have dismissed the reforms, saying they will not allow the UK to block unwanted EU laws or reduce migration.
Justice Secretary Michael Gove, is campaigning for the UK to leave the EU.
The Eurosceptic «Vote Leave» campaign was quick to dismiss what it called «Cameron’s hollow deal» as bad for Britain. Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign, said Mr Cameron «will now declare victory but it is an entirely hollow one».
It is widely believed that the popular London mayor, Boris Johnson, may eventually throw his weight behind a campaign for British exit (Brexit) from the EU.
The risks of Cameron’s strategy were highlighted on February 19 when an opinion poll showed the campaign to leave the bloc had a two-percent lead with 36 percent support.
The TNS poll showed 34 percent of British voters wanted to stay in the bloc, 7 percent would not vote and 23 percent were undecided.
The head of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage said that no matter what deal Cameron takes back to London there will still be no guarantees for Britain.
«He cannot look at the British people in the eye and guarantee them this is where we will end up, even if he wins a referendum on us staying members of the union», the UKIP chief told RT.
Farage explained that «nearly half» of the European Parliament opposes the new renegotiation of the existing treaties, while the European Court of Justice offers «little promise that Britain is not going to get committed to further political integration».
The agreement, hailed by Cameron as a victory, has already been criticized by Eurosceptic MEP Daniel Hannan as bringing no real power back from Brussels to the UK.
«The PM says we’ll be ‘out of the parts that don't suit us’. But NOT A SINGLE POLICY is being returned from Brussels to Britain», Hannan tweeted after the announcement of the deal.
So, there's no assurance the British people will approve the referendum. The country's difficult relationship with the EU is nothing new. Britain has resisted the «ever closer» ties with the Union. The UK has avoided becoming too intertwined with some of Europe's institutions, however: it has not switched to the euro, and it is not a part of the Schengen Agreement, which did away with border controls between the countries.
To outsiders, it may well seem like small fry compared to some of the other burning global problems. But a potential Brexit from the EU would have enormous consequences for Europe and, by extension, the world. And while the fine details of EU membership may matter, also at stake is a bigger question about the very nature of European identity and perhaps the future of supranational organizations.
A British departure would leave the EU diminished. Britain is the EU’s second-largest economy and one of its two permanent members on the UN Security Council.
No country has ever voted to leave the Union. By proving that membership in the union is reversible, Brexit could severely damage the very foundations of the EU and reverse the continent’s post-WW II march toward «ever closer union».
The EU summit’s deal is a game changer. A member with special rights or a country leaving the Union – a precedent is set in any case. The EU is no longer a monolith it used to be. At the summit, the Union focused on Brexit in a desperate attempt to remain united. It failed to come up with a package of clearly defined measures to tackle the problem of migrants with the Visegrad group challenging the Germany-France leadership. The language of the adopted Conclusions on Migration is vague enough.
There are deep divisions over the sanctions imposed on Russia. This issue has become an irritant with many EU members finding their vital economic interests damaged as a result of the decision imposed by the US and the «established» EU leadership actually led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. With so many problems of crucial importance, the issue of anti-Russian sanctions has become a square peg in a round hole – an extra burden on the EU at the very wrong time.
The European Union is in for hard times. There is a reason to believe the organization has already seen its best days. To large extent, the Union finds itself on shaky ground as a result of its own decisions. Anyway, the world will never see the EU it once knew.