Europe’s problem is this: what does David Cameron actually want?
He has been infuriatingly vague. He has spoken of ending the principle of “ever closer union” enshrined in countless EU treaties, but that’s not going to happen.
Or if it is, Britain will be left in a kind of outsider status in Europe, paying contributions but without the right to shape its future. That would surely be purgatory not liberation.
He talks about ending the freedom of workers to move anywhere within the EU to find jobs. But that is never going to happen either because mobility of labour is a cardinal principle of the single market and the Union itself.
Free movement is also, like free markets themselves, a principle of Conservative economic thinking. This betrays the ugly truth that it is not really reform of institutions that Cameron is looking for – just something to halt immigration to the UK.
Realising that free movement is a non-starter he has sought to block migrants in other ways, by using the social security system. Cameron wants to deny EU citizens the rights to receive benefits like tax credits for four years after they arrive.
He also wants to end the rule whereby they can receive child benefits for children not actually living in the UK. He claims this is open to abuse, and it probably is. Though the cost is probably only a few hundred million.
But the point about all these is that he would be discriminating against EU citizens by doing so. In other European countries migrant workers have to be treated as if they were citizens of the respective country. Only Britain seems to regard this as a serious issue.
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