MEPs offer strongest support for UK remaining in EU yet

MEP confident that EU-UK renegotiations can be successfully concluded.


By William Louch

19 Nov 2015

A delegation from the European Parliament has given the strongest backing yet to the UK remaining part of the European Union.

The support came from members of the EU Parliament's constitutional affairs committee (AFCO) who met in London to discuss the upcoming EU membership referendum with UK ministers, parliamentary committees and think tanks.

Danuta Hübner, Chair of the AFCO committee and a member of Parliament's centre-right EPP group, said of the UK; "We want them to stay. We made it clear that nobody is going to win with the UK leaving the European Union. That’s why our message was strong."


However, she believes that the issue is deeply divisive and is more a question of Britain, "seeking their identity in the context of Europe," than of any real desire to achieve the outcomes outlined by UK Prime Minister David Cameron last week.

She believes the ongoing negotiations between Cameron and the EU are irrelevant, saying, "it is not about the issues that are on the agenda…the problem lies much deeper."

She continued; "The major message we got from the no camp was that the results of the negotiations do not matter. Whatever the outcome, they are against. From Labour we have heard that irrespective of the result, they will vote to stay."

The UK's renegotiation demands, officially announced last week, include: opting out of a commitment to an 'ever closer union'; greater protection for non-Eurozone countries; improved EU competitiveness; stricter controls on migrants' access to benefits.

Whether the UK will be successful in securing these reforms divides opinion. Cameron's requests met a mixed response from senior European figures. Martin Schulz, President of the Parliament, believes the UK's chances of opting out of "an ever closer union" are negligible, saying, "to change it you need a treaty chance… I see little chance for treaty change."

Demands for restrictions on migrant benefits are also likely to prove problematic. Margaritis Schinas, the European Commission’s chief spokesperson, said of the proposal: “Some things are highly problematic, as they touch upon the fundamental freedoms of the internal market. Direct discrimination between EU citizens clearly falls into this last category.”

Hübner, however, remains optimistic of the EU and the UK coming to a mutually acceptable arrangement; "We [the EU] have a long history of negotiations and we usually find a solution, so I think we will find solutions here."

She believes the current security situation could have a real impact on the outcome of the referendum, more so than any economic considerations. Allegations that one of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks arrived in Europe as a refugee, coupled with Europe's seeming inability to tackle to ongoing refugee crisis lend weight to populist, Eurosceptic arguments that countries need more sovereignty over their own borders. Bland, statistic-heavy reports published by anonymous pro-business lobbies do not carry the emotional same weight.

The deputy acknowledges this saying; "It was clear from the discussions that security will be the number one issue and the economy less so."

She concludes by noting that Europe and the UK are stronger together; "But think long-term and think about the world around; isn’t it better to be in a bigger Europe? Europe, even with the UK, is a small continent," though it is "up to you to decide."

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