Proposals to resolve British complaints about the EU will be distributed to Irish and all EU governments this morning by European Council president Donald Tusk.
The sudden progress over the last few days is seen as allowing British Prime Minister David Cameron to agree a deal at an EU summit later this month and call an early referendum on whether Britain should remain in or leave the EU.
A proposed solution to the vexed issue of depriving EU citizens working in Britain who are not British citizens of certain social welfare entitlements is the most pivotal of the four issues on the table.
And while negotiations have been under way for months, the solution has been sitting in plain sight, in the EU treaties that allows countries trigger an ‘emergency brake’ to shut their borders or make other changes when they are under severe pressure.
Britain says its education, health and other social services are under severe pressure from the number of people from other EU countries coming to work in the UK. About 4% of its population comes from other EU member states while the figure for Ireland is around 8%.
Mr Cameron’s spokespersons described the outline as “a breakthrough” but Downing Street and EU president Tusk both said there was still work to do.
Exactly how the emergency brake would work was not clear as Britain wanted to ensure that workers from other EU countries would not be able to claim in-work benefits for four years. The ‘in-work benefit’ scheme is unique to Britain and helps poorer and disabled workers through tax breaks.
Downing Street also said Mr Cameron wants to shut down abuses, such returns of people who have been banned for criminal activities, and sham marriages between an EU and a non-EU citizen that then gives them the right to reside in the country.
Ireland has long been battling such sham marriages also and in December gardaí made 11 arrests involving criminal gangs operating in the Republic and in the UK in a business worth an estimated €20m last year alone.
Reports from Poland and other countries with large immigrant populations were very cautious about the proposals. They will be anxious to ensure their citizens are not discriminated against. Over the next two weeks there will be intense negotiations between the capitals to produce an acceptable solution for the summit on February 18 and 19 in Brussels.
Other issues headlined by Mr Cameron as necessary for him to support a ‘stay-in’ referendum campaign included acknowledging that sterling was currently on par with the euro and ensuring that rules for the eurozone did not militate against other currencies used in the EU.
France warned all member states over the last few days that this could not mean that Britain would have a veto over eurozone rules.
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