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With the risk of Brexit comes a new European agreement that is harsh for the ordinary worker, but lenient on City workers

Translated Tuesday 29 March 2016, by Philippa Griffin

On Friday 22nd February, European leaders finalised an agreement aimed at persuading the UK to remain in the EU, a goal for which David Cameron has promised to campaign « with all his heart and soul ».

Agreement completed! David Cameron has succeeded in gaining permission to withhold social benefits – for four years – from all workers originating from other EU nations who arrive in the UK going forward. This clause – an “urgent brake” – that the UK will be able to instigate for the next seven years, will not apply to the more than one million European migrants already living in the country. Nonetheless, family benefits will be reduced for those who have children living in another EU state, a measure which will impact with immediate effect on all new claimants, and every single claimant as of 1st January 2020.

Where regulation of the financial and banking sectors is concerned, the agreement underlines the necessity of a “level playing field”. It permits the UK to closely monitor its institutions and markets in order to maintain financial stability, “without causing damage” to the existing rights of the EU in this respect.

After two days of negotiations with his EU partners, the British Prime Minister congratulated himself on a compromise which he claimed bestowed a “special status” on his country compared to the EU’s other 27 nations. Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, however, was at pains to point out that the UK has long since benefitted from a “special status”.

The agreement, which was finalised in Brussels on Friday evening at a longer than anticipated Council meeting, grants the UK an explicit exemption regarding a “European Union whose rules grow continually more rigorous”. The exemption offers notable concessions regarding the generosity of social benefits paid to European workers settled in Britain, and also seeks to preserve the advantages and the privileges of the City of London.

« It is for this reason that I will campaign with all my heart and soul to convince the British people to remain in the reformed EU that we have succeeded in formulating today”, explained Cameron. His Tory Eurosceptics were quick to react; the “Vote Leave” movement condemned a disappointing “hollow promise” for Britain. At his press conference, Cameron described himself as disappointed, but not surprised by the decision of one of his closest allies, Justice Minister Michael Gove, to campaign to leave the EU. He implied also that other Conservative Party members might soon defect to the “Brexit” camp (which is in favour of leaving the EU). The British people remain divided on the question of whether or not to remain inside. According to a TNS survey published on Friday 22nd February, the proportion of the British public in favour of an exit has increased two percentage points above the proportion who wish to remain: 36% against 34%.

« Now, the agreement is in place and the ball is in the court of the British people”, concluded Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the EU Commission at the close of discussions, which it is fair to say were of marathon proportions. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised a “fair and reasonable compromise” and the French President François Hollande termed it an agreement “which will not impede progress towards the future of Europe”. Hollande proudly stated that the rules were for all states. Although, he highlighted, the UK enjoys some exceptions – being neither in the Schengen Zone nor the Eurozone – “these are the same rules which apply everywhere in Europe – and which will continue to apply going forward. They will see no specific exemptions....that much I have carefully ensured. We must not give the impression that Europe is a ‘self service’ set-up. It is possible to have a differentiated Europe, but not one where each state simply takes what he will.”

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