On the night of February 19 the Heads of government and State of the European Union have adopted an agreement that redefines the United kingdom’s adhesion to the EU. The next day, British PM David Cameron called a government meeting and announced that the referendum will be held June 23rd. What is the bearing of the agreement? What will be the future of European integration if a “yes-vote” should prevail? In the February summit the United Kingdom and its 27 EU partner Countries defined the terms of a legally binding agreement under international law, to be integrated within European treaties in the next revision.
A balanced compromise solution was reached
in terms of the creation of an “emergency break” enabling a single Member Country of the EU that does not use the shared currency to summon a European summit in case of disagreement with a measure taken by euro-zone Countries. The agreement stipulates that economic and monetary union should be developed and that “Member States whose currency is not the euro” shall not impede “the implementation of legal acts directly linked to the functioning of the euro area.” The Prime Minister also obtained that the reference to the Preamble of the EU Treaty to an ever-closer union shall not be applied to his Country. The deal envisages also stronger powers to national parliaments as regards amendments to legislative provisions.
The major obstacle prior to the European Council was the UK’s request in terms of welfare benefits to European workers.
While the new settlement reaffirms the free movement of workers, a member Country has the faculty to restrict access to non-contributory in-work benefits to EU workers for a period of seven years, for a total period of up to four years from the commencement of employment. As of January 1st 2020 all Member States may extend benefits indexation to existing claims to child benefits already exported by EU workers. Finally, the “deal” will be valid only if a yes-vote prevails in the referendum (“yes” to UK permanence in the EU). Dispositions will cease to exist should the result of the referendum in the United Kingdom be for it to leave the European Union (Brexit). Exit from the EU would have to be formally communicated after a majority “no” vote to the permanence in the EU, following the procedures envisaged by Art. 50 of the Union Treaty. According to experts, this process could last from five to ten years, entailing the examination of hundreds of European regulations currently applied directly, to be eventually integrated within national legislation.
The British government would have to renegotiate over 200 international agreements. A Brexit would have a considerable economic impact, while geopolitical consequences would negatively impact Europe as a whole
thereby calling into question the very cohesion of the United Kingdom, given that the Scottish, and perhaps also the Welsh population, would be encouraged to call for a referendum on their own independence. Thus there are several good reasons in favour of the United Kingdoms’ permanence in the EU, but a “no” is possible inasmuch as a referendum will be influenced more by the migrant question than by the 19 February deal. Whichever the outcome of the June referendum,
the agreement has confirmed the existence of a two-track Europe.
That acknowledgement – admitting the failure of European integration – could also pave the way to a revision of the EU project as a whole. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi mentioned it in a comment at the end of the summit; Pope Francis returned to address the theme during the press conference on his flight back from Mexico (“a re-foundation of Europe”). Efforts should focus on this project. Those who intend and can continue the historic experience of European integration – in all likelihood the founding Countries – should reformulate this project adapting it to the conditions of globalization and to the free movement not only of goods, services and capitals, but also of the people.