Following its first session in which European Union government leaders agreed to accelerate action on the refugee crisis, the European Council agreed a new settlement for the United Kingdom in the European Union.
New settlement for the United Kingdom
Unanimously agreed by all Member States, the deal fully addresses the requests of the United Kingdom and is legally binding. It will become effective on the date the United Kingdom informs the Council that it has decided to remain a member of the European Union. European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, welcomed the agreement: “The deal we have agreed now is a fair one, a fair one for Britain, a fair one for the other Member States, a fair one for the European Union. It is fair, it is also legally sound. The deal responds to all the concerns of the United Kingdom, and respects the basic principles of our Union. At the same time it safeguards the integrity of the single market and the cohesion of the Eurozone. This deal does not deepen cracks in our Union but builds bridges.”
The agreement guarantees mutual respect between those Member States who are in the euro area and those who are not. President Juncker said, “We need a strong euro area, just as we need a strong City of London. Those countries who want to integrate their economies further will be able to do so. Today's deal leaves no doubt that the euro is the currency of our Union and that the deepening of our Economic and Monetary Union will continue. There will be no veto and the text makes that crystal clear.”
The new settlement commits the European Union to further promote the competitiveness of its economy and reduce the regulatory burden on businesses. It will make “all efforts to fully implement and strengthen the internal market, as well as to adapt it to keep pace with the changing environment.”
The agreement recognises that the United Kingdom, “in the light of the specific situation it has under the Treaties, is not committed to further political integration into the European Union.” It also creates a new mechanism whereby a group of national parliaments representing more than 55% of the votes allocated to national parliaments - under the EU’s existing provisions on reasoned opinions - can call for a comprehensive discussion of any new legislative proposal they deem incompatible with the principle of subsidiarity. The Council will “discontinue the consideration of the draft legislative act in question unless the draft is amended to accommodate the concerns expressed.”
Social benefits and free movement
The agreement creates a new safeguard mechanism that will allow Member States to limit the access of newly arriving EU workers to in-work benefits for a total period of up to four years from the start of employment. President Juncker said: “I want to underline that the safeguard mechanism responds to a very specific problem. It was very important for the Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, to ensure that any derogation to our fundamental freedoms was limited in time.”
The limitation should be graduated, from an initial complete exclusion but gradually increasing access to such benefits to take account of the growing connection of the worker with the labour market of the host Member State. The authorisation would have a limited duration and apply to EU workers newly arriving during a period of seven years. The agreement also gives Member States the option to index child benefits to the conditions of the Member State where the child resides. President Juncker underlined that this provision would “not extend to other types of welfare provision. It will not apply retroactively.”
Earlier in the summit, the European Council voiced its determination to pursue European solutions to the refugee crisis. President Juncker said, "We have agreed unanimously that our approach must be European and that national solo efforts are not advisable."
President Juncker also underlined the crucial role of Turkey: "We have confirmed that there is no alternative to good, intelligent and proper cooperation with Turkey". The European Council calls for full and rapid implementation of the EU-Turkey Action Plan, in order to reduce migration flows into the European Union. Turkey has recently taken important steps, giving Syrian refugees access to its labour market, but the flows of migrants arriving in Greece remain too high.
Heads of state reaffirmed their commitment to the relocation scheme proposed last year by the Commission. The scheme provides for a fair distribution of asylum-seekers across the European Union and relieves some of the pressure on those countries receiving most refugees. So far, implementation has been slow, and the European Council calls on Member States to accelerate their work.
The European Council also welcomes NATO's decision to help monitor the illegal crossings in the Aegean Sea, and calls on the European Union, through FRONTEX, to work closely with NATO.
- Video - Press statement by President Juncker and President Tusk following the first day of the European Council