Brexit: PM Cameron must be successful in EU renegotiations but he also need to look successful

Anthony Wells of YouGov said: The details of the renegotiation don’t matter at all. It does matter if Cameron is seen to succeed or seen to fail. Do you see if similarly or maybe a bit differently, and why, and do you think the the EU/Member States are ready to give Cameron “something” to make him look successful? Read few comments.

Frank HägeLecturer in Politics, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Limerick

I think Anthony Wells is partly right in saying that it will matter if Cameron is seen as having succeeded or failed. Of course, whatever the outcome of the renegotiations, both pro- and anti-EU side will try to frame it in a way that suits their predetermined goals. However, the two things are of course connected. If Cameron gets a lot of concessions in the negotiations, the out-campaign will find it much more difficult to frame the outcome as a failure than if he gets very little.

Whether or not the other member states are prepared to give him a lot is a different question. I think they will, because nobody wants to see the UK leave. At the same time, certain things that the UK would like to talk about are probably non-negotiable for others (like the principle of free movement). Member states are probably prepared to go quite far to keep the UK on board (especially with respect to demands that are also shared by other member states), but not at any price. The recent experiences with the UK being excluded from the Fiscal Compact Treaty or outvoted in the adoption of financial regulations show that in a Union of 28 member states, even the consent of one of the largest ones can be suspended with if its objections are deemed unreasonable by most of the other states.

Kristian SteinnesProfessor, Department of Historical Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

It is an interesting question, which I think has no clear answer.

Yet I would be careful to be as blunt as Wells of YouGov. I do agree that it is a matter of winning the public argument and for Cameron to appear as to have succeeded, and a leader that have secured British interests – even be able to argue that he has repatriated powers from Brussels. But everybody knowing the EU and its past, also know that all the other 27 states has to agree on Treaty change. They will also bear in mind how many years it took to agree on the Lisbon Treaty following the Constitutional Treaty debacle, which was voted down by France and the Netherlands. Thus, I believe the EU/member states – acknowledging the importance of continued British membership of the EU – will react in the same way as Merkel. She has indicated that she understands Mr Cameron, and his demands for reforms. As you know, the most likely areas that has been mentioned for some time is: a four-year ban on EU migrants claiming in-work and other benefits; greater protections for non-eurozone countries to ensure they cannot be outvoted by eurozone countries; giving Britain an opt-out from the EU’s commitment to ‘ever-closer union’; and giving parliaments more powers to club together to block EU legislation. Yet it is not only the EU that would be affected by a Brexit, so would the United Kingdom itself. For example, if Britain should vote to leave the EU, the Scottish issue would almost certainly pop up again. Thus, there is very much at stake, both in the EU/Europe and in Britain.

Therefore, I believe that the major EU leaders, headed by Merkel, will signal a positive attitude to Cameron’s demands and that they will give what they believe is enough for him to win the referendum (and of course to fight for ‘staying’, i.e. support the yes campaign). He is currently advised – which largely is a tactical move – to keep open the option of backing the ‘leave’ campaign. Yet I do not believe that he will secure profound changes and substantial repatriation of powers. Treaty change is a very hard sell – and unlikely; (but we never should say never). The EU/Member States will therefore have to give him something – which they believe is enough for him to argue that he has got the reforms Britain needs to stay, and not least to make him look successful. Which indicates that I disagree that details of the renegotiations don’t matter at all. They matter, but only to a certain extent. What matter the most is who wins the battle of presenting the reality.

Simon UsherwoodAssociate Dean, Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of Surrey

Wells is correct – there is already deep suspicion about the depth of the renegotiation among those who are interested in it, so it will be the perception that matters. Certainly, other MS want to be helpful to the British (but not if it compromises the value of membership for themselves), so something symbolic should be possible. That might be nothing more substantial than getting blue covers on passports once more, but if it is packed well, then that might be enough.

Jonathan Tonge, Professor of Politics, University of Liverpool

I agree that the perception of whether David Cameron has succeeded or failed in the EU renegotiation may be more important than the reality. However, this perception will depend upon the main details. If, for example, Cameron fails to produce any changes on EU immigration rules, that will be a detail of which the UK public will be fully aware – and may punish him! So the basic details DO matter!


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