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Thursday, October 16, 2014

What are David Cameron's options on EU immigration?

Following reports that David Cameron is considering a new announcement on how he would renegotiate EU free movement, potentially considering an "emergency brake", we have set out in a short briefing what his potential options are.

Here are the key points:

The debate about internal EU migration has two dimensions. Though inter-linked they should be treated separately. “Fairness” – who can access what benefits and when; and “volume” – how many migrants come to the UK every year. David Cameron is reportedly considering moving from addressing fairness to making a demand to curb the numbers of EU migrants to the UK.

There is substantial support at the EU level to give national governments greater control over access to their welfare systems and doing so would not require treaty changes but a qualified majority vote among governments and the agreement of the European Parliament.

Any move to limit the numbers of EU migrants coming to the UK would most likely require treaty change (with the possible exception of an ‘emergency brake’) and therefore the unanimous agreement of other EU governments. It is currently unclear what exactly – if anything – Cameron might ask for on volume, but he may have three broad options, which in order of increasing difficulty to secure EU agreement are:

  1. An ‘emergency brake’ triggering temporary controls on EU migration if the flow is considered ‘destabilising’, too large and/or concentrated;
  2. Permanent quotas on EU migrants;
  3. A points-based system, similar to that which exists for migrants from outside the EU, differentiating between “skilled” and “low-skilled” migrants.

There are a number of questions around how an ‘emergency brake’ could be organised practically, but if this is David Cameron’s top EU negotiating priority he may just achieve it, given that there are precedents for brakes in other areas in the EU treaties and there is increasing awareness across the Continent that public concern about free movement is contributing to the EU’s unpopularity.

Whatever the merits of the proposal, as a domestic political strategy, it is unclear whether an ‘emergency brake’ would be enough to see off UKIP – as Cameron could still be accused of failing to secure full control over Britain’s borders and migration policy – although it may reassure 'swing voters'. Therefore, Cameron risks spending a lot of political capital abroad for limited political return at home.

Securing either option 2 or 3 would be an extremely difficult task as it would involve fundamentally rewriting the EU treaties and unpicking one of the founding principles of EU membership. There is likely to be little or no political appetite for such a move among other EU countries. The Swiss experience shows that, even outside the EU, measures to limit EU migration could result in threats from Brussels of reduced trade access to EU markets.

This is not to say that EU rules on free movement can ever be changed, but rather that this is one area where Number 10 will find it hard to get away with creating the headline first, and the content later. Given the domestic sensitivity of the issue and how deeply it strikes at the heart of existing terms of EU membership, successfully negotiating change requires a well thought out plan that has domestic and European level buy-in.


5 comments:

David Horton said...

Cameron has no chance of pushing any of this through. The EU leadership, current and previous, have repeatedly slammed the door when this has been mooted. We’ve all hear the “issue of free movement in the EU is non-negotiable”. It is an oft repeated response from unsmiling eurocrats. Followed usually by something like “free movement is a cornerstone of the EU” or some other pretty definitive phrase. Juncker and his merry bunch cannot afford to let this go through or he and the entire EU is ridiculed and discredited (more than it is already).

If there was ever an argument that epitomised everything that is wrong about the EU, this is it. The argument for a member state to have tighter control over their immigration is democratic, fair, sensible and economically sound. The argument also works for the emigrant nation as it loses skills and expertise. This loss serves only to lengthen the time before the losing nation can join the happy families of net contributors. The policy of free movement is conceited dogma, pure and simple. It is an ideological position without evidence, “for the sake of it” with no rationale or logic. It is damaging in the longer term to both nations, with short term limited benefits to the receiver, although such benefits don’t filter through to society, only to businesses who can greedily snap up cheap labour.

However. The good news. This entire argument is to me, a means to a desirable end. Cameron today, said that he would give it “one last go”. Presumably this means that if he doesn’t get the EU to budge sufficiently, then he will have no choice but to do something drastic and move the Tory party into the EUsceptic camp. Whether that is enough to spike the UKIP guns remains to be seen, but the change & choice would be very welcome for 2015. UKIP=EU Exit. Con=EU sceptic. Lab=EU Fence sitters. Lib= pro EU. I am kind of hoping that Cameron is smarter than the nation gives him credit for and that he has already worked this all out. It does give him some serious leverage with the refuseniks in the EU leadership.

So go ahead Mr Cameron, give it “one last go”, as you put it. You will either get nothing or not get enough. You will certainly not get the level of concession that you want. However, the end result is exactly what the majority want. You will have to move the Tories to EUsceptic or see the Tory party suffer an historic schism. And at last, the British people can vote for a spectrum of opinion on the question on whether our continued membership of the EU is good for Britain.

The only way to get the EU to change direction & re-focus on trade rather than federation, is to pack our bags and go right to the door. We can then see whether they have the common sense & humility to swallow a bit of their dream to keep us in their club. If yes, great, we turn around and resume our seat. But if no? We walk out the door, and don’t look back.

Britain wins either way.

Anonymous said...

The problem here is not the immigration per se which the EU / EEA law has its main principles, but the failure of the British System to enforce Laws which limit the access to specific benefits from people who just come over to Britain to enjoy those benefits.

In other countries, claiming benefits involves proving that you had worked for a specific amount of time in the country and even after that proof, citizens are only eligible for these benefits for say max 6 months for example. After that they do not get any more unemployment benefits for example. In Greece for example, as much as bureaucratic and chaotic as it may be, authorities start now to request the 5-year permanent residency registration certificate when requesting for extra benefits and this paper although easy to request, it can only be requested after 5 years of staying in the country legally (working, self-employed, payed taxes etc.)

If Britain chooses to limit immigration, then this will be not a matter of EU but rather EEA treaty which is that Treaty which dictates for Free Movement. In this treaty, there are also non EU countries (e.g. Norway) who even if they have to accept free movement, they do not have serious migration issues mainly because they do not allow every person at his will to claim benefits without any concrete evidence of work etc.

This modification that Mr. Cameron and UKIP are trying to achieve, is more complicated than it seems, and Britain risks to remain isolated in the end as out of the EU will mean out of the EEA and in order to participate in the EU trade markets will require laws to be followed and ratified in UK without any say (e.g. as Norway and Switzerland are obliged to do right now in order to enter the EU market trade).

The matter of immigration, it is worldwide related and has to do with globalisation. As long as wars and disparities will exist, immigration is going to be unavoidable, except if we decide to close down the borders and not allow any entry to anyone anymore.

Average Englishman said...

@David Horton
All very logical but I do not trust Dave and his crew as far as I can throw them. They have no credibility. They will say whatever it takes to win the next general election and then rat on it afterwards. Dave is only a very mild Eurosceptic and will do whatever he can to keep the UK in the EUSSR.

@Anonymous
It is not just about immigrants taking benefits, it's about mass immigration changing the culture in large areas of the country for the worse; it's about a lack of space in the hospitals and a lack of housing opportunities; it's about wages being kept low for so many by an army of Eastern Europeans who will work for minimum wage and most of all, it's about control. The UK people via their government should have the ability to permit entry to the UK to whomsoever they like - and keep out those whom they don't like. Simple. It's about power - taken from me and my family and given to overpaid bureaucrats in Brussels who are only interested in their next pay cheque, not the best interests of the UK voter. It is power that was given away without the consent of the people and they want it back. Simples.

So, altogether Dave panic all you like and promise all you like. I shall not believe any of it. Roll on the elections.

Rik said...

You approach the issue from the wrong angle.
It is clear that the present level of immigration in no way has a sustainable platform in British society. Imho it should start there. Not what seems achievable within the EU framework.

Basically if present I(mmigration)=Volume X Quality.
With Q being the total of factors (like compatiblemess, economic contribution, government expenditure). Negatives give a higher factor.

The UK population simply demands a considerable lower I.
Seen the numbers it is probably necessary to work on all major factors and groups.
-Much better immigration authorities. They might have improved but are still a complete joke. Not only in the UK, but all over Europe.
-Bringing over family members.
-Bogus students.

But to get to a sustainable I simply especially low end workers from other EU countries (mainly east, but now also South) have to be reduced.

Plain stupid to sign up before to let Bulgarians and Rumanians etc in, without limits, but now that simply will have to be reversed.

And indeed you likely need treaty change for that. And if not possible, let the people decide.

jon livesey said...

I don't think that this is nearly as difficult as you portray it. One of the defining features of the EU is the extent to which it is prepared to bend its own rules.

Solidarity pact? Violated by even Germany. Consequences, none. Broken promises on deficit reduction? France, Italy, and on down. The European Parliament seizing control of the appointment of the President? Done. No veto of individual commissioners? Ask Slovenia.

The question is; under what circumstances will the EU bend the rules for Cameron The answer is always the same: given a credible threat of the UK leaving the EU, the rules will be bent, the Treaties will be "interpreted", an "exception" will be made.

But the key word is credible. If Cameron is to make a credible threat, the voters have to back him up. We can't tell Cameron to face down the EU, and then tell pollsters that we would vote to stay in the EU even if he fails.