Britain and Europe

Britain’s special status in Europe

3 March 2016

A comprehensive assessment of the UK-EU deal and its consequences

Andrew Duff

Most analyses of the 19 February agreement between the UK and its EU partners have embraced a narrow British political perspective, looking at the short-term consequences for the 23 June referendum campaign. Taking a more European and long-term view, this essay, by former Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff, provides a thorough assessment of the agreement from a legal and political perspective. It looks in particular at the reach of the concessions obtained by David Cameron, and at the significance of the agreement for the future of the EU.

Duff first assesses the legally binding character of the deal. He observes that the European council’s decision binds its signatories politically, however, from a legal point of view, “the substance of the decision will not be binding on the EU as such until its provisions have been transposed into EU law”.
The analysis goes on by reviewing the four main headings of the agreement. The argument balances between the risks and uncertainties of some provisions, and the chance for the EU to flourish as a more diverse entity, in which the “coexistence between different perspectives” is possible.

On one end of the spectrum, Duff stresses for instance that the provision on ‘ever closer union’ “means the end of an implied common goal. Suddenly it has become acceptable, if not respectable, for states to hold different concepts of the finalité politique”. The introduction of a ‘red card’ for national parliaments, likewise, risks “shifting the inter-institutional balance in favour of those who are occupied with their national interests and away from those whose job it is to find and articulate the European general interest”. Duff regrets the failure to advance the concept of ‘green card’ instead, which would give national parliaments a more positive role. Finally, the provisions regarding the access to social benefits for migrant workers are left with a number of legal and political uncertainties.

On a more positive note, the provisions on economic governance are for Duff the best outcome of Cameron’s renegotiation. He argues that both the UK government and eurozone member states got their way. In exchange for the alert mechanism available to non-euro countries, the principle of qualified majority voting still prevails in regulatory decision-making. “The overall effect of the decision in this area is to nudge forward the eurozone towards the full completion of the banking union and greater fiscal integration”, adds Duff. “It remains to be seen how UK centred financial institutions cope with the growing mutualisation of risk within the eurozone and the gradual tightening up of EU supervision over financial conduct.”

Duff concludes by stating: “At best, the decision could contribute to a successful campaign backing a referendum decision to remain in the EU”. However, he warns against the risk of further British disengagement and deterioration of its relationships with its EU partners. He therefore invites UK and EU policymakers to promote the spirit of “coexistence” mentioned in the economic governance provisions.

Photo credit: Arron House Number 10 / CC 2.0