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EU unveils proposals to avoid 'Brexit'

February 2, 2016

The EU has unveiled proposals to keep the UK in the 28-member bloc. Tough negotiations remain for EU member states to agree on four major areas of reform.

Belgien, Symbolbild Brexit
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/L. Dubrule

The EU has delivered a set of proposals that meet many of the UK's demands but tough negotiations remain to avoid a "Brexit" from the 28-member bloc, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday after European Council President Donald Tusk unveiled a "basket" of reform proposals.

"Draft EU renegotiation document shows real progress in all four areas where UK needs change but there's more work to do," Cameron said on Twitter.

Cameron has requested adjustments to the UK's commitments in four key areas to garner enough support from skeptical members of his own Conservative party and push back against the anti-EU vote ahead of a referendum.

The EU draft released on Tuesday covered Cameron's demands on protection of countries not using the euro, making the EU more competitive by cutting red tape, allowing the UK to opt out of "ever closer union," and limitations on benefit payments to migrant workers.

"To my mind it goes really far in addressing all the concerns raised by Prime Minister Cameron," Tusk said in a letter to members of the European Council. "The line I did not cross, however, were the principles on which the European project is founded."

The proposals now face the uphill struggle of getting the support from 27 other member states ahead of a summit on February 18.

'The basket'

Viewed as one of the key demands for Cameron to successfully push for Britain to remain in the bloc, the EU proposal includes a four-year brake on migrant worker benefits.

The proposal would maintain EU "principles of freedom of movement and non-discrimination" while allowing EU members to curb welfare benefits to migrants if a country can prove its welfare system or public services are threatened or overwhelmed.

This part of the proposal has encountered resistance from Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, who claim that the restrictions would discriminate against their citizens, tens of thousands of whom live in the UK.

The deal would also include a "red card" provision. Named after penalty cards in football, the proposal would pave the way for EU member state parliaments to block EU legislation or demand changes if there is 55 percent support.

The draft also advances a change that would not bind the UK to "deeper integration" with the bloc as stated in the EU's Lisbon Treaty. Such a provision would allow the UK to opt out of further integration with the EU while preserving sovereignty.

Another part of the proposal addresses a UK demand to increase competitiveness and red tape. On economic governance, the draft also includes a mechanism for the nine member states not using the euro to raise concerns.

Brexit - Britain not comfortable with 'Ever closer Union'

Long road ahead for Cameron

The terms of the deal are officially the key factor in determining Cameron's position of "Brexit," UK's upcoming referendum on staying in the EU.

Cameron's conservative government is set to campaign against 'independence' if the British terms are accepted in Brussels.

The deal with Tusk, however, is just the beginning of the road for Cameron, who also needs to persuade his fellow EU leaders to accept the measures during the upcoming February 18 summit, as well as deal with the Euroskeptics in his own Conservative party.

Pivotally, the EU proposals would not kick in until after the UK holds a referendum.

Although London's deadline for the referendum is the end of 2017, success in Brussels could push the timetable forward and allow Cameron to hold the vote in June this year.

The latest polls show that the pro-EU camp enjoys larger support, but their lead over the "Brexit" supporters is narrowing.

cw/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)