Britain and Europe

Britain’s EU renegotiation: the view from our partners

9 October 2015

A new Policy Network paper providing insight into the stances of the UK's main partners ahead of Britain's EU renegotiation talks

Policy Network

Before British citizens get to vote on staying in or leaving the European Union in 2016 or 2017, David Cameron has embarked a very uncertain renegotiation with its European counterparts. This report aims to provide an objective assessment of where the UK’s main partners stand on British demands, and the type of concessions they would be the most likely to contemplate. Policy Network’s research team conducted 30 interviews with senior policymakers, politicians and opinion leaders in six key European countries that will play a pivotal role in the discussions (Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Poland), as well as a dozen of high-level conversations in Brussels.

The report highlights three main findings:

First, EU member states strongly wish to keep Britain in, yet not at any price. All our partners share fundamental sympathy for Britain, and genuine fear of Brexit, but they are not ready to be blackmailed to give Conservative backbenchers satisfaction. Even in traditional allies like Sweden or Poland, patience with Britain’s distant attitude is in short supply.

Second, there are ‘low hanging fruits’, for which legal and political solutions could be found despite the absence of immediate treaty change: an agreement on a looser interpretation of ‘ever-closer union’; a bigger for national parliaments; a renewed commitment behind the EU’s competitiveness agenda.

Third, free movement of people and the relationship between the eurozone and other member states are the most difficult areas of discussion.

Despite the refugee crisis, Cameron fails to convince that the EU’s freedom of movement of people is fundamentally flawed. In most capitals, the perception is that the British problem is home-grown, and that only domestic reforms can address it. There is overall sympathy for the idea that more can be done to tackle welfare tourism, but little prospect that a majority can be constructed in the European parliament for legislative changes on social security coordination on the UK prime minister’s timetable.

Finally, Britain’s demand to build a firewall between euro-ins and euro-outs sounds premature and excessive to most UK partners. The question can only be addressed in the context of new integration measures in the eurozone, something which is unlikely to happen before 2017. More fundamentally, countries like Poland and Sweden sympathise with British concerns, but they prioritise inclusiveness, transparency and access to eurozone deliberations over changing the voting rules. Core eurozone countries do not oppose giving verbal assurances against ‘caucusing’ but they are not bought into the idea of new special powers for non-euro countries.

This project has benefited from the financial support of the City of London Corporation.


Photo credit: Dave Kellam CC 2.0