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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

False row alert: Changes to EU benefits rules don’t necessarily need treaty change

Cameron and Tusk do not see
eye-to-eye on EU free movement
The UK-Poland row over immigration continues. Now Polish PM Donald Tusk has waded in by saying that Poland would veto any EU treaty change aimed at striking down on access to benefits – including child benefit for children living in other EU countries. This is in response to David Cameron's remarks on Sunday that:
"I think it's wrong that someone from Poland who comes here and works hard - and I'm absolutely all in favour of that - but I don't think we should be paying child benefit to their family back at home." 
Somewhat confusingly, Cameron said one way of changing the rules was "the treaty change that I'll be putting in place before the referendum that we'll hold on Britain's membership of the EU by the end of 2017".

Tusk hit back, telling reporters in Warsaw that:
"If anyone, whether it is premier Cameron or anyone else, will want to change the European treaty to make this possible, Poland will veto it, today, tomorrow and forever," 
The two men will have what we assume will be a somewhat tense phone conversation later today.

You know what we think of this row. However, whether we agree or disagree with the changes Cameron proposes - and it's hard to see how the current EU rules around child benefits can stand - most of the changes around access to benefits could be sorted through altering EU directives and regulations. Those who favour the status quo point to the EU treaties’ passages on non-discrimination as a barrier to change.

However, the EU’s Rights of Residence (aka Free Movement) Directive already qualifies the right to access certain benefits on the basis of time resident in a country, so it would be a matter of agreeing to extend this already established principle. The rules on child benefit are governed by the EU’s Social Security Regulation. The Directive and Regulation are both decided though qualified majority, meaning that no single EU country has a veto, meaning Poland would need to muster a blocking minority to see off the changes. No need to touch the EU treaties (unlike an outright cap on immigration, for example). Ultimately, the devil would be in the detail.

But, again, a pragmatic compromise is fully possible. The Open Europe/Fresh Start reform conference next week will bring together some of the key players in this debate - including the head of the EU Affairs committee in Polish Parliament, Agnieszka Pomaska and the Bulgarian foreign minister, Kristian Vigenan - to try to replace the current emotional shouting match with a substance-based discussion.


christina speight said...

The whole argument is bogus and Cameron is only doing as a ploy to win in 2015. He'll lose interest in reform of the EU if he gets back to Downing Street for, remember, he's avowed that no government he leads will take us out of the EU. - Of course like most of his promises that one too is as fragile as the rest!

christhai said...

First of all Cameron is expecting the British voters to be as stupid as he is.

Cameron (and OE and Fresh Start) know full well that a Member state of the EU cannot - as in CANNOT - make changes to the EU rules of membership.

There is nothing whatsoever in the Lisbon Treaty which permits such a thing.

To change the rules, Cameron or anyone else, must invoke Article 50, suspending membership - and that is what WILL be done - MUST be done.

Now OE - you are an EU qango run by Berlin. Fresh Start is a Pro-EU organisation set up to (rather easily) trick the former Tory rebels) and pretend they are "Neutral or EUsceptic". They are neither.

christhai said...

Fact 1.
OE is entirely Pro-EU.
Fresh Start is entirely Pro-EU.

These are Trojan horses in any EU debate.

2. There is no provision of any kind in the Lisbon Treaty which
allows any member state to change any of the rules of
its membership whilst it is a member.

I think David Cameron knows this.

Rik said...

Pay it to UK resident children (via their legal representative).
For Bulgarians and Co likely demanding official proof would do the trick as well. Very likely a proper investigation into this proof will show that that official proof (at least alot of it) is rubbish. Subsequently it could be denied in an application. From mthere future application could drown in red tape.

Problem with all these solutions however is that people (like Britishers living abroad say pensioners with young children often paying UK tax over all their income) that every normal thinking UK citizen(or any other Western citizen) would see as entitled to benefits will likely be excluded as well. Just to avoid other anti-discrimination rules.

For Cameron I donot see this as negative, overall at least. He gets a lot of media coverage because of this. As long as he will follow up on this with the next thing it will likely be very positive for his credibility on the issue (which could use a boost).
Anyway several of these issues will likely catch people's attention during the negotiation process and the media circus before it actually starts. Would be better if it could be avoided but simply looks unavoidable.
Unlikely that not on moe eastern European toes will be stept.

Anyway the downside for the rest of the EU should be put clearer in the continental media, where it can do its work. Making the electorate and via them their politicians ready for a reneg.

Anonymous said...

Well clearly the eastern european countries who benefit from this ludicrous situation will try to keep the stays quo, the thing is will Germany continue what is best for the eussr (Germany) as opposed to what is best for the nations being inundated with unfettered immigration. The best method is to send any unemployed eussr foreigner home rather than giving them benefits in the UK. This is already allowed, and anyone imrisoned should be deported as well.

jon livesey said...

I don't often get this impression of Open Europe, which I normally think of as pretty level headed, but I think you have your heads in the clouds in a rather typical "elites-think" way on this topic.

Current numbers suggest that 77% of the public want some reduction in immigration and 50% want "a large" reduction.

Now you are free to brush this off with an airy "You know what we think of this row." and you almost gagged my on my cornflakes with your "to try to replace the current emotional shouting match with a substance-based discussion".

Come on. "A substance-based discussion"? Are you trying to channel Mary Riddell?

Is one little web site that seems to get about a dozen visitors a day going to step in and make an impact, slap a few hands and get everyone to be nicey-nicey?

Politics is about perceptions. Cameron didn't start the discussion about immigration. He got it dropped on him. Now he has to deal with it in a way that isn't electoral suicide, and so far he isn't doing so badly.

Just think about this. Cameron comes across as standing up for people who perceive immigration as a threat, and also as someone standing up to the EU. Meanwhile the EU are doing their usual expert job of alienating the British public. The "nasty country". The "hysterical debate". The Polish PM who will take our tax money no matter what we think about it.

Paderewski couldn't play this etude with more skill than Cameron is currently showing.

Anonymous said...

"...The rules on child benefit are governed by the EU’s Social Security Regulation..."

I bet most in the UK don't even realise how much we dont have true control over. Just to be able to do our own thing.

Anna Syngellakis said...

To Anonymous The UK has full control over child benefit rules; the UK is free to even abolish it; as we all know, the present government has limited the right to child benefit; what the UK cannot do at present is treat differently UK and EU workers.