UK referendum talks move forward

More state visits across Europe have been on the agenda, with a recent scorecard suggesting progress has been made in a number of areas. 

By Erik Tate

11 Sep 2015

George Osbourne, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Secretary of State, was in Sweden, Denmark and Finland to discuss the position of non-euro Member States, while Prime Minister David Cameron was on the Iberian Peninsula to visit Spain and Britain’s “oldest ally”, Portugal. Meanwhile, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, Charles Flanagan, has spoken out about why a Brexit would be “no laughing matter” and the impact on Northern Ireland. 

Another important country for the UK in the referendum debate will be the Netherlands, based on the important positions occupied by its nationals: the Dutch Presidency in the first half of 2016 will be responsible for the finishing touches of any renegotiations in the Council, while European Commission efforts will be guided by Dutch Commissioner Frans Timmermans and implemented by the new Dutch Secretary-General Alexander Italianer. 

It was the British Jonathan Faull, however, who formally became the Director-General of the newly created DG "Task Force for Strategic Issues related to the UK Referendum" on September 1, in accordance with the reshuffle announced on June 24. This unit is now in position to mediate the upcoming discussions between civil servants in Brussels and London. 

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has responded to a question on whether the EU executive would be observing “purdah” rules for the referendum, flatly answering that “the Commission does not campaign in national referendums.” However, on the same day, he also explained that the Commission would in fact be engaging in “information activities” in order to “improve public understanding” about the EU and its work in the UK. 

The referendum debate has also finally reached the chambers of the European Parliament, where on September 3 the Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) held an exchange of views on “The renegotiation of the United Kingdom constitutional relationship with the European Union: agenda, risks and implications”. This included the publication of a draft study giving insights into the upcoming renegotiation talks. 

However for Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament, this is not enough, so he has formally invited David Cameron to discuss his renegotiation with the Parliament. The Parliament’s President, Martin Schulz, in an exclusive interview with The Parliament Magazine, has stressed the need for "compromise over confrontation" in the negotiations, just after UKIP MEPs rather uncompromisingly launched their campaign for the UK to leave the EU. Other senior MEPs are also starting to engage in the Brexit debate

Despite previous indications that David Cameron would water-down EU social rights in the negotiations, it has been reported that he has scrapped demands for full British exclusion from EU employment laws ahead of the referendum. This news was welcomed by Labour MEPs, with its leader Glenis Wilmott saying that the pro-EU arguments “must not just address the business case for the EU, but the case for working people as well."


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