Prime Minister David Cameron can expect to get most of the changes in Britain’s relations with the rest of the European Union he wants in 2016, according to Wikistrat’s Nick Ottens. But he will have to compromise on benefits for labor migrants.
A four-year ban on workers from other member states receiving social benefits in the United Kingdom and other wealthy EU nations, as proposed by Cameron, is fiercely resisted by Central and Eastern European governments. Several million of their nationals are employed in other EU states.
Cameron has some support on this: from the Danes and probably the Dutch. But France, Germany and Poland are wary. If they unite, Cameron will have to water down his demands or risk a failure — and a subsequent referendum vote against membership.
He can’t afford one. His priority is keeping Britain in an EU that focuses more on economic rather than political integration while opting out from “ever-closer union.” This is where the Germans, the bloc’s most powerful members, are the most sympathetic. They want to keep the free-trading British in the EU to balance against the protectionist instincts of countries like France and Italy, the second and third economies in the eurozone. The Germans also increasingly regard the need to reach consensus among 28 member states (rather than the 19 that share the euro) as an obstacle to the sort of fiscal union they think is needed to save the single currency and prevent further debt crises.
Hence more significant than restricting labor migrants’ access to national welfare systems — which is really Cameron’s only contentious proposal and one that will suck up a lot of media attention — is that the British-initiated reforms will end up splitting Europe in two: between a core of euro insiders and a periphery of non-euro outsiders.
Cameron calls this “flexibility.” For the Germans, it’s a way to deepen integration where it matters to them without losing the British from the EU altogether. Other non-euro states — Denmark, Poland, Sweden — will want to make sure in 2016 that they’re not losing out as a result.
Click here to read all of Wikistrat’s predictions for 2016.
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Wikistrat Project Manager
Editor, Atlantic Sentinel