The text of the Council meeting is wordy. The preambles make clear that the agreement is entirely within current EU treaties and law. It says it is seeking to clarify, not change. Language affirming a multi currency union did not survive the Council. Instead the UK had to settle for a recital of the opt outs that the UK and Denmark enjoy and the conclusion that all the time those derogations remain “not all member states have the euro as their currency”.
The preamble goes on to recite UK opt outs from the common borders policy, and some criminal justice measures. Four pages remind us of the current legal base and the areas where the UK already has opt outs. Then we get into the Decision of this latest Council. This begins with a balanced statement for the UK vis a vis the Euro:
“(UK) will not create obstacles to but facilitate such further deepening (economic and monetary union) while this process will, conversely, respect the rights and competences of non participating member states”
The more detailed explanation of banking rules is also similarly balanced. Whilst member states not in the Euro are accorded some freedom to regulate their own markets there is also a statement that “this is without prejudice to the development of a single rule book and to Union mechanisms of macro prudential oversight for the prevention and mitigation of systemic financial risks in the Union and to the existing powers of the Union to take action that is necessary to respond to threats to financial stability.” The current position sees an increasing amount of common EU regulation and rule making for all financial institutions and markets within the wider EU, where the votes and needs of Euro members can hold sway.
The addition of the right for the UK to request a rethink of an unhelpful rule does not convey any veto or prevent the EU Council simply affirming their intention to press on with such a measure.
The competitiveness section is short and is a repeat of existing Union policies. Pledges to better regulation and some repeals are imprecise and similar to past statements.
The section on sovereignty does say “ever closer union” will not apply to the UK. It also goes on to state ” These references do not alter the limits of Union competence governed by the principle of conferral, or the use of Union competence governed by the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality”. In other words no powers are transferred back, and the general powers of the current treaties remain in place.
The addition of the right of 55% of member states Parliaments to request a rethink on a new law is a very weak power. It would still be easier to seek to block a new law by getting enough support around the Council table in the normal way. None of this relates to current laws or the occupied field of activities which can be extended by secondary legislation and ECJ decisions.
The section on social benefits and free movement is also weak. The document reminds us that ” Free movement of EU citizens under Article 21 of the TFEU is to be exercised subject to the limitations and conditions laid down in the Treaties and the measures adopted to give them effect.” In other words, no change.
The issue of whether all this is legally binding is not important, as so little new has been granted. Most of the text is a restatement of existing powers and requirements under the current treaties.
The EU promises secondary legislation to allow Child Benefits to non resident children to be paid at a rate related to the conditions in the child’s home state. This falls well short of the UK request to be exempt from paying child benefit to non resident children. The EU also grants an emergency brake provision to allow a member state to limit in work benefits for EU migrant workers , tapering them in over a four year period. Again this falls well short of the UK request for no benefits to be payable for the first four years.
The EU also promises eventual treaty change on ever closer union, but this will not result in powers returning to the UK.