London and EU partners haggle over reforms

The EU summit in Brussels is turning into a showdown on the Brexit issue. Will Prime Minister David Cameron manage to secure enough concessions from his EU partners to persuade his countrymen to stay in the EU?

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Deutschlandfunk Kultur (DE) /

British won't just focus on Cameron's results

The EU's current crises will have a far greater impact on the outcome of the Brexit referendum than any deal Cameron manages to secure in Brussels, the public broadcaster Deutschlandradio Kultur argues:

“[British Prime Minister David Cameron] has been given plenty of space to put on a big show. His target audience: the EU enemies at home. His mission is to convince them that in a heroic show of courage he has negotiated a brand new EU in which it is worthwhile staying. … But most Brits won't be scrutinising the results of Cameron's negotiations ahead of the referendum; they will look at the state of the EU instead. And then they will ask themselves whether they really want to be part of this union. If the refugee crisis still hasn't been brought under control at that stage the answer to that question may very well be 'no'.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

Danger of a huge legal dispute at EU level

Even if a deal is reached in Brussels the Brexit issue won't be settled, the liberal business paper Il Sole 24 Ore points out:

“Any deal must be legally binding and irreversible, as Downing Street never tires of repeating. … While David Cameron flew to Brussels yesterday Nigel Farage, the leader of the Eurosceptic Ukip party, waved around the negotiators' latest draft and announced that the European Parliament had the power to scupper the deal. He also said that the European Court of Justice could tear the document up into little pieces. … In other words, there was no guarantee that the deal would clear the hurdles of the EU institutions - regardless of what the EU leaders want. This little display makes clear what Cameron can expect upon his return. This time Farage hasn't got it all wrong. Whatever deal is struck, a gigantic legal dispute could break out over its validity.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Giving in would set a dangerous precedent

If the British prime minister manages to push through his reform demands other countries will follow his example, the centre-left daily The Irish Times fears:

“We may not like some of David Cameron’s EU reform demands which will be voted on by the UK’s partners today in Brussels. ... The Government argues that, if this is the price we must pay to preserve vital British membership of the Union, then we must pay it and vote for the deal. But it is a surrender, however necessary, to ultimatum tactics that we may yet rue. In time the ability of a single state to dictate policy to 27 others in the interests of political expediency will only encourage others to try to do likewise.”

Sme (SK) /

Cameron must not overplay his hand

Given the many unforeseeable consequences the EU simply cannot afford to let the British leave, stresses the liberal daily Sme:

“That gives Cameron a strong hand in this game. But he must be careful not to overplay it. In the Visegrád states the British prime minister has now found a group of unexpected allies on issues such as more power for national parliaments, deregulation in Brussels or the rights of European states which don't yet use the euro. So it wouldn't be very nice of him to insist on also cutting social benefits for those 'migrant workers' who already live in the UK. Because Cameron enjoys Angela Merkel's virtually unlimited support, it is conceivable that the Brexit problem will be resolved at this summit. Then it would actually be a historic summit.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Yes to Brexit a chance for EU to start anew

A unique opportunity would arise for the EU if the British vote for a Brexit, columnist Simon Jenkins argues in the centre-left daily The Guardian:

“A no vote would not 'isolate' Britain from mainland Europe, whatever the howls of 'Project Fear'. But it would traumatise EU complacency. It would press the reset button. A no vote would force the EU, or at least countries outside the eurozone, to seek a new balance between supranational regulation and free trade. However arrogant it might seem to others, Britain would have precipitated reform. That is surely what everyone wants.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

EU would be more peaceful without London

A Brexit would have a very calming effect on EU foreign policy, essayist Edouard Tétreau writes optimistically in the conservative daily Le Figaro:

“Specifically the foreign policy of the Iraq war pursued among others by Tony Blair, as well as the forced eastward expansion of the EU and Nato all the way to Ukraine, which has stirred up Russian paranoia. If Britain leaves the EU there will be a return of a foreign policy that comes closer to its genuine interests and values, oriented on three potential objectives: more peaceful relations with Russia - last week's historic declaration between Pope Francis and Muscovite Patriarch Kirill is a signal and an invitation in this direction. … Since the deal with Iran a fresh start for the EU's policy in the Arab world has also become a possibility, as has making Africa and the Mediterranean area a strategic priority - because they will be crucial for Europe's future.”

Mladá fronta dnes (CZ) /

Eastern Europeans are being self-destructive

The selfish demands of certain Eastern European countries are making it even more difficult for the British to stay in the EU, commentator Luboš Palata rails in the liberal daily Mladá fronta Dnes:

“Western Europe is feverishly discussing how it can accommodate David Cameron's wishes, and is ready to pay a high price to do so. Meanwhile Warsaw, Budapest, Bucharest and Prague are haggling with Donald Tusk over the extent to which Poles or Lithuanians should receive benefits for children who don't even live in the UK but with their mothers at home. As if they didn't grasp that once the British leave the EU hundreds of thousands of Poles, Romanians and Czechs will have to pack their bags and look for work in their countries of origin. ... People in Western Europe are beginning to wonder why they paid hundreds of billions of euros to take in the 'former communists' in the first place. And whether they wouldn't be better off without them.”

Göteborgs-Posten (SE) /

Brexit would throw EU off balance

A British exit from the EU would have many lasting repercussions for the remaining member states, the liberal daily Göteborgs-Posten fears:

“A Brexit would fundamentally change the character of the EU. Many aspects of European cooperation have revolved around compromises between Germany, France and the UK. The loss of the UK would mean a shift in the balance of power that has so far prevented EU collaboration from being too fragmented and centrally controlled. In simplified terms one can say that Britain has always striven for autonomy and liberalisation in the common market. … It is neither the agricultural and fisheries policies so cherished by France nor the endless legislation and cumbersome subsidy programmes that have created a stronger Europe, but the common market that has achieved this. And it is largely the British we have to thank for that.”

Večernji list (HR) /

EU will never be a federation

The desire of a large section of the UK population to leave the EU highlights how the idea of a United States of Europe is just a pipe dream, the conservative daily Tageszeitung Večernji list argues:

“The reforms that the British are pressing for make this increasingly clear. The focus is on sovereignty for member states, and for the first time it has been announced openly that not all countries must follow the maxim of 'ever closer union' laid down in the preamble to the EU's founding treaty of 1957. … Many people in Europe don't see themselves as Europeans but as Germans, Greeks, Croatians, etc. This identity is not just political but also cultural and historical, and can't simply be erased at an EU summit. No one can force a European identity on anyone in Europe. So the EU will remain what it is: a community of sovereign states.”

Corriere del Ticino (CH) /

Cameron miscalculated

David Cameron got in over his head with the promised referendum, writes Ferruccio De Bortoli in the liberal daily Corriere del Ticino:

“Unease is spreading. The value of the concessions Cameron has wrung out of the EU is being underestimated at best and ridiculed at worst. The UK has clearly positioned itself as reluctant vis-à-vis Europe, but in the past its approach was concrete and pragmatic. Britain has always managed to exploit all the advantages of EU membership without having to fulfil too many obligations. A wobbly but strong counterweight. Now the rope that stretches to London has grown thin and frayed. More so than Cameron could have foreseen when he made his daring referendum bet. He is not hanging on that rope alone but along with all Europeans, including those acting as if nothing has happened.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Too soon for referendum

The British don't really know what they will be deciding for or against in the Brexit referendum, the conservative daily Financial Times observes:

“Perhaps fear of the currency bloc is overdone. Perhaps it will respect British sensitivities, namely about our financial services. ... The point is we do not know. We do not know whether the EU in a decade will have a single market in services or just keep talking a good game about it. We do not know whether non-EU countries will account for so much of our export revenue as to make the European market (and the rules that govern it) less central to our livelihoods. The referendum is happening too early to be meaningful.”

Iltalehti (FI) /

Brexit also an opportunity

A Brexit would entail many disadvantages but also one major advantage, the liberal tabloid Iltalehti comments:

“The entire EU will be weakened if the UK leaves. France would probably gain more clout in foreign policy, and labour market protectionism would increase. Poland too might become more influential than it has been. But the worst scenario would be a British-inspired exit boom. That would be the end of the EU in its current form. On the other hand this could leave the EU consisting of those countries that want to develop its common rules. That needn't be a bad thing at all.”

More opinions

The Daily Telegraph (GB) / 16 February 2016
  UK parliament avoids Brexit debate
Die Welt (DE) / 10 February 2016
  Tusk and Cameron's reforms would make EU more democratic (in German)