David Cameron has set out seven “key” changes he wants to secure in Britain’s relationship with the EU, detailing for the first time the deal he hopes to put to the country in his proposed 2017 in-out referendum on membership.
Although wide-ranging in scope, Mr Cameron has pitched his demands at what he regards as a realistic level; some can be achieved without any change to EU treaties, others cannot.
However, even if he were to secure all seven of his demands, it would be unlikely to satisfy the scores of Tory MPs who want a much more fundamental scaling back of the EU into little more than a free trade organisation.
Mr Cameron’s demands, ranging from new rules to end “ vast migrations” to more powers for national parliaments over EU legislation, are all familiar but he has so far been reluctant to publish a “shopping list”, lest his demands are rebuffed.
His renewed focus on Europe follows the decision last week by Ed Miliband, Labour leader, to rule out a referendum in the next parliament, barring the “unlikely” event that more powers were transferred from Britain to the EU.
Mr Cameron believes the public will reward the Tories for offering a referendum on a new British settlement; Mr Miliband argues the prime minister’s 2017 poll is based on an “arbitrary” date and will cause serious business uncertainty.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Cameron said he wants to end “vast migrations” when new countries join the bloc; other countries could support the idea of longer so-called “transitional controls” on movement, especially if a country such as Turkey were to join.
He wants tougher curbs on social security benefits for migrants, which could largely be achieved within existing EU rules. Angela Merkel, German chancellor, is sympathetic with Mr Cameron on this point.
The idea of a group of national parliaments working together to block some EU legislation is a development of an idea in the Lisbon treaty, while deregulation and the acceleration of EU trade deals are likely to feature in the mandate given by heads of government to the next European Commission.
Mr Cameron wants to end “unnecessary interference” in British justice from the European Court of Human Rights – an institution that is separate from the EU – and from other European institutions.
He also wants more power to “flow away” from Brussels, something that could be proposed by a reform-minded European Commission, when it takes office in 2015.
Perhaps the most problematic demand for other EU countries is Mr Cameron’s assertion that “ever closer union” – a founding principle of the EU – should not apply to Britain. However, a limited UK-specific protocol might deal with that concern.
Mr Cameron’s immediate focus is on ensuring the next European Commission president shares his priorities, hence his determination to block Jean-Claude Juncker, the federalist former prime minister of Luxembourg and favoured candidate of Europe’s centre-right parties.
Meanwhile a group of 18 pro-European Conservative MPs from the European Mainstream group will on Monday publish a pamphlet setting out the case for Britain staying in a reformed EU.
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