Brexit talks: Both sides are trying to present an image of being tough

If you look at UK-EU negotiations what you see, how would you describe the negotiation tactics and strategy of both sides? Read few comments.

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

Cameron’s negotiation tactic is probably the best he could come up with in his situation (sitting between two stools – his Eurosceptic backbenchers at home and the other EU member states in Europe, and not really wanting to leave the EU himself). Three of the four issues that he has selected as demands are not terribly controversial. So whatever the outcome of negotiations, he can always claim success at home. At the moment, it looks like he is also insisting on some meaningful concession with respect to the only more controversial issue, i.e. the payment of welfare benefits to EU migrants. The other member states seem to be prepared to give him something of substance, but only to the extent that the free movement principle is not put into question (or at least not obviously violated). At the same time, the negotiations cannot be seen to go too smoothly, because that would undermine Cameron’s claim at home that he has received important concessions. Since both Cameron and his negotiation partners in Europe know that, it is not entirely clear to what degree temporary stalemates in negotiations are truly a result of different views or just posturing.

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

Both sides are trying to present an image of being tough on these negotiations: Cameron because he needs to convince voters that he has got a good deal, Tusk (and other member states) because they want to show that they are not simply giving the UK everything it wants. Beyond that image, I think everyone involved in the negotiation wants to find a deal, so it is a matter of them finding something that looks substantial, even if its actual impact proves to be very small: this is why the access to welfare benefits is so complex – the UK’s original demands would have challenged a key part of the EU’s acquis, so now they need to find something that is much more compliant with the treaties, but still allows Cameron to claim some kind of success. The main challenge now before the European Council will be whether other member states bring up more objections to the draft due later today: if they do, then a deal will probably have to wait until the following European Council.

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

I do see negotiation tactics is part of the overall strategy. Thus, if we take a look at the longer term strategy in the UK (i.e. the Cameron governments strategy) it is, as far as I can see, two-fold: a) to negotiate a deal that will enable the UK to stay in the EU – i.e. to negotiate a deal upon which is possible to win the referendum for the ‘stay campaign’. b) to neutralise the eurosceptics in the conservative party in order to being able to carry out politics in relations to the EU without being pushed to the brink of the very same eurosceptics. Thus, the UK strategy is to stay in the EU on terms acceptable to the majority of the British public.

The longer-term EU strategy is to keep the UK inside the EU – without treaty changes. In that respect, it is a problem that at least one of Cameron’s demands (free movement), might require treaty change if it should be fully recognised.

To meet these strategic ends, the tactics in both Britain and the EU are to give and take enough to keep Britain inside the EU. Thus, Cameron’s tactics would be to secure a deal he could sell to the British public as a victory for his demands, or most of his demands. For the EU it is to find ways of accommodate Cameron’s demands acceptable to most EU members. Yet free movement is a particularly important issue (not least for former Eastern European countries).

Thus the negotiation strategy in the EU is to recognise Cameron’s problems in this area without giving up the right to free movement. At the core of the tactics is some form of temporary ’emergency brake’ on in-work benefits for EU migrants in the UK (which appears to be acceptable to many EU countries). It is a tactical issue (negotiable) to decide how long such a temporary brake should exist. Cameron’s tactic is to propose sufficient time for such a provision, perhaps seven years, which would leave him with scope for accepting something less than that. On the other side, all 27 countries (all except Britain) have to agree on the number of years – and the nitty-gritty for securing a deal.


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