Donald Tusk hoping to reach Agreement on UK EU Referendum by February 2016


David Cameron has not been very lucky lately with his letter writing. One letter to a local councillor in Oxfordshire scored own political goal, charges of hypocrisy and ministerial misconduct. Another letter to the president of European Council, did not even warrant a reply. Donald Tusk wrote ‘in response’ but not back to David Cameron. He addressed his letter to the European Council where he refers to David Cameron in third person.

I cannot help noticing the dynamic between our Prime Minister, setting out his outlines for an ‘In or Out’ referendum, and the European Leaders who will agree beforehand “where we stand on the issue of a UK in/out referendum before we address it at the December European Council”. Is this the illustration of the future, where we in the UK will be reduced to pleading with the European Leaders who will then let us know “where they stand on the issue”? I hope not.

So what is ‘the stand’ on Cameron’s four demands? I put together the excerpt from the PM letter and David Tusk response for you to compare. I allowed myself a short remark at the end of each demand.

  1. Economic Governance

David Cameron: There are today … two sorts of members of the European Union. There are Euro members and non-Euro members…. …we want to make sure that [any] changes will respect the integrity of the Single Market, and the legitimate interests of non-Euro members.

Donald Tusk: We are also looking into the possibility of a mechanism that will …. [allow] Member States that are not in the euro the opportunity to raise concerns, and have them heard, …… , without this turning into a veto right.

Donald is telling Dave: it is your decision whether you are in a Euro zone or not: “you pays your money and you takes your choice”

  1. Competitiveness

David Cameron: …, the burden from existing regulation is too high. … the United Kingdom would like to see a target to cut the total burden on business. The EU should also do more to fulfil its commitment to the free flow of capital, goods and services. … we should bring …… a clear long-term commitment to boost the competitiveness and productivity of the European Union and to drive growth and jobs for all.

Donald Tusk: On competitiveness, there is a very strong determination to promote this objective … Everybody agrees on the need …[of] better regulation and on lessening the burdens on business while maintaining high standards. The contribution of trade to growth is … important …, in particular trade agreements with fast growing parts of the world.

The only clause where D & D seem to be in a full agreement.

  1. Sovereignty

David Cameron: …questions of sovereignty have been central to the debate about the European Union in Britain for many years …First, I want to end Britain’s obligation to work towards an “ever closer union” …. Second, I want …. groups of national parliaments, acting together [to] stop unwanted legislative proposals. …Third, I want to see the EU’s commitments to subsidiarity fully implemented, … “Europe where necessary, national where possible”.

Donald Tusk: There is wide agreement that the concept of “ever closer union among the peoples” allows for various paths of integration for different countries. …. There is also a largely shared view on the importance of the role of national parliaments within the Union as well as strong emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity.

Donald dodged the decision. David wants an end to “ever closer union”, Donald “allows for various paths of integration”.

  1. Immigration

David Cameron: ….we have got to be able to cope with all the pressures that free movement can bring … Right now, the pressures are too great.…. we need to be able to exert greater control on arrivals from inside the EU …. we do want … to reduce the current very high level of population flows from within the EU into the UK. … This includes tougher and longer re-entry bans for fraudsters and people who collude in sham … we need … to reduce the numbers coming here … we [need to reduce] the draw that our welfare system can exert across Europe… we have proposed that people coming to Britain from the EU must live here and contribute for four years before they qualify for in-work benefits or social housing.

Donald Tusk: The fourth basket on social benefits and the free movement of persons is the most delicate and will require a substantive political debate at our December meeting. …. there is presently no consensus on the request that people coming to Britain from the EU must live there and contribute for four years before they qualify for in-work benefits or social housing.

Whilst DT is talking about “the fourth basket on social benefits”, DC wants “re-entry bans for fraudsters and people who collude in sham”. Are they talking about the same things? Disagreement declared.

What next?

David Cameron: I look forward to a substantive discussion at the December European Council. It remains my aim to conclude an agreement at the earliest opportunity, but the priority is to get the substance right.

Donald Tusk: The December European Council should address all the political dilemmas related to this process…. we should be able to prepare a concrete proposal to be finally adopted in February 2016.

February 2016 highlighted by me. Is that the first reference date on the EU Referendum campaign planning?

I am aware that my arbitrary quotations will be different from what others would choose to quote. You can compare the full letter of David Cameron with the response of Donald Tusk. Both were reported in various ways: The Tory press talks about Sovereignty, Fairness, Immigration and Growth.  Less friendly reporters talk about Sovereignty, Euro, Competitiveness and Migration. My feeling is that we are talking about self-inflicted MESS: Migration, Euro, Sovereignty, Strength (or weakness as the case might be).

Unfortunately, I can see the whole referendum being hi-jacked by two issues only: migration and sovereignty, both of them badly defined and badly presented. Now we can only wait what will happen next week when the European Council decides how to react. Then we have to be ready to react on their reaction.


* George Smid was the Liberal Democrat candidate in South Holland and the Deepings in 2015. He is a member of the East Midlands Regional Executive, the English Council Executive and is a former European candidate

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  • 1. Economic governance: It is clear that to Tusk the EU is the “ever closer union” of the Euro zone, non-euro-zone members are of peripheral concern to him. ie. He has no vision of an open Europe market where some members happen to use the same currency.
    2. Competitiveness: Whilst there seems to be agreement, Tusk’s response does raise the awkward question: why is the EU actively pursuing a trade agreement with the US and not “with fast growing parts of the world.”?
    3. Sovereignty: whilst Tusk does dodge the issue, his response should be read in the context of item (1), namely he wishes to see ever closer union into a single Euro zone, and hence envisages countries within that having residual/limited sovereign powers.
    4. Immigration: I think Tusk is trying to be neutral and not pre-empt the (hopefully) more extensive and informed December discussions, where other member states are likely to raise their concerns.

    > I can see the whole referendum being hi-jacked by two issues only: migration and sovereignty, both of them badly defined and badly presented.
    I would tend to agree, on migration many people will confuse EU and non-EU migration and not appreciate that EU migration is really all about balance, namely allowing free movement of (employed) labour whilst constraining the opportunities for people to exploit differences between member countries, such as welfare benefits .
    Sovereignty is going to be a real chestnut, it is a shame that Tusk doesn’t really enumerate his vision of sovereignty within the EU/euro-zone as the lack of an EU view on the role of the nation state does leave the stage open to those who wish to spread FUD.

  • This all looks like a big, slow motion car crash, with us driving on the left and the rest of the EU on the right.*

    *Yes I know Malta and Ireland drive on the left too.

  • The EU Commission is convinced that more integration is the solution to every problem. The endless transfer of power to the centre means ever less sovereignty for the member states and a loss of democracy for the citizens.

    The Commission plans to create a finance minister, treasury and the ability to raise taxes. I doubt if this will be welcomed by the public, though few of them will get the opportunity to register their opinions.

  • Sorry, my earlier comment on relates to the EZ only, but this will help to underline the direction of travel being planned by the EU. A two tier EU will not solve any problems, it is the worst of both worlds and effectively the waiting room for EZ membership.

  • @Peter
    How on earth do you arrive at the idea that decision making at European level is in any way less democratic than the British model with its hereditary members of parliament in the Lords and its hereditary head of state?

  • The party and leadership need to wake up and smell the expresso on this issue .Whatever ones view, the eu needs a shake up across the board . Our own party does not seem to get it ,nor does Cameron , get it . ALDE, could , but do not. Ever closer union is meaningless and elitist twaddle if spouted in isolation or opposition of and to people s real concerns. The mood of the citizenry of each country needs to be heard. Cameron, for all his faults speaks more for me as a British Liberal Democrat ,than do European bueaucrats. A vision of a democratic , open , tolerant Europe , should tolerate various ways and means. One size fits all is socialism .It is not Liberalism. Survival of the fittest is often conservatism . It is not Liberalism. A Europe that allows for voices to be heard , views to be listened to , various ways to be encouraged, that could be a Liberal Europe . We do not have it . Because nobody has tried it , we might never get it .

  • Also , the single currency being such a centralising influence means I fear we are heading for British withdrawl . We need to make a very different case for staying , security crime, and peace at least resonate . The business oriented arguments , made only by Stuart Rose and co are a waste of time , if , as Peggy Lee , sang , is that all there is ?

  • Richard Underhill 14th Dec '15 - 6:43pm

    Lorenzo 14th Dec ’15 – 5:39pm “The single currency ” is a misnomer. It was named the “euro” years ago, which even Norman Tebbitt accepted as a name, although he does not want the UK to be included in it.
    The name euro was officially adopted on 16 December 1995

  • @Chris – At least in our version of democracy we get more than 8% of the vote.

    Just tell me how I can get rid of Juncker, or Shultz, or Tusk, or any of them.

  • Malcolm Todd 14th Dec '15 - 11:51pm

    @Peter – unless you happen to live in Witney constituency, you can’t get rid of David Cameron either. You can only vote for your preferred candidate for MP and hope that enough people in other constituencies vote in a way that gives you the government you want. (Which, mostly, it won’t: democracy means most people not getting what they want, I’m afraid.) The same principle applies on the European scale. It’s far from perfect but it’s no less democratic for being multinational.

  • It feels like we are sleepwalking toward the exit door while our partners in Europe are snoring away in the next bedroom

  • J George SMID 15th Dec '15 - 8:03pm

    The comments responding to Dave vs. Donald article show a wealth of opinions and as a rule very good analysis of the current situation. EU does need a shake up and indeed is shaking up. EU before credit crunch, before Greek crises, before refugee crises was different from the EU after the events. Unfortunately when hearing ‘the mood of the citizenry’ responding to ‘flight or fight’ reflex of the challenge, the loudest heard is the flight brigade. It is not the most sensible one but it is the loudest: we do not want this. I agree with Lorenzo, the party needs to wake up and stop reacting to ‘we do not want’ shouts and start formulating what we do want. We also need to find an emotional response: for example the whole ‘Eurozone’ debate is to a large extent irrational: jedibeeftrix would be happy with Eurozone but would vote to leave the EU if ‘Euro’ was extended to the whole of the EU. Well, if you were in London recently, you were in Eurozone: most of the big shops already carry dual pricing in pounds and euro. (And US dollars.) Now, I remember the time when anywhere in Europe you could use pounds to pay your bills. Not today. The hotels, shopkeepers, restaurants etc politely send you off to your nearest bank to change your pounds to Euro. Euro is happily accepted anywhere – inside Eurozone or outside of it. In other words the Eurozone is already covering the whole of Europe. (The EU and the rest.) Our ‘pound independence’ is as much of a Chimera as if the Scots claimed currency independence just because the treaty three hundred years old allowed them to print Scottish Pound Notes.
    We are sleepwalking towards the exit. We have to wake up.

  • “Now, I remember the time when anywhere in Europe you could use pounds to pay your bills. Not today.”
    J George ,.. Seriously?
    I was in Rhodes Old Town 12 months ago. At the end of a splendid evening I realised I hadn’t enough Euros to finalise the bill. I grabbed my ‘English money’ from the back of my wallet. I put two £20 notes on the table and my debit card. The £20 notes disappeared and the debit card remained untouched. Trust me the Greeks have learned [the hard way], the lesson of value, and the Euro isn’t it.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Dec '15 - 4:29pm

    Laura Kuenssberg said on 16/12/2015 that the referendum will probably be in June 2016. An April 2016 date would have been preferred if the December 2015 meeting of Heads of State and Heads of Government (HoSs & HoGs) had been decisive.
    There is a lot going on in May 2016. Everywhere in the UK will have at least one kind of election, so the Electoral Commission are wise to reject that date for a euro-referendum as well.
    The longer the delay the greater the risk that the PM is taking. “Events, Dear Boy, Events”.

  • J George SMID 16th Dec '15 - 5:09pm

    jedibeeftrix, I hope I did not miss the point. It was about the legitimacy of who does govern you. I took it step further. I opinionated that the government of the UK is limited in its governing power. I used Euro and Pounds acceptance as an example. I could equally argue that the ability to set an independent interest rate or an exchange rate is very limited as far as UK national government is concerned. How long would BoE keep ‘independent’ rates if the EB or the Feds increase theirs? How long we would maintain ‘independent’ exchange rate fixed to our own needs without ‘due consideration’ to what our partners are doing? George Soros would have a thing or two to say about that.

    My conclusion would be that whatever the practicality on the ground it is always better to have a place at the negotiated table than to stay outside and shout what we do not like.

    Indigo, you were lucky and pound payments might happen but not as a rule. I was in Thessaloniki two years ago and when I haggled with the taxi drivers outside the airport he gave me prices in Euro and Dollars and was not willing to accept pounds. But I was not talking about specific experiences. The reason why the Europeans were widely prepared to accept pounds was that a lot of European national banks saw the pound as a reserve currency if not entirely than as a proportion of ‘currency basket’. The pound still features as a reserved currency but in volume of only 4% of the (word) total as supposed to Euro’s 20% (2014).

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