Eastern Europe is turning on the UK over one of its EU renegotiation demands. As we anticipated in the TAI morning newsletter earlier this week, economic support for migrants will be the sticking point for many European leaders getting set to negotiate the reforms demanded by Prime Minister Cameron. The Telegraph reports:
Europe’s East-West divisions were laid bare on Tuesday after David Cameron demanded Brussels give Britain the right to discriminate against EU migrants by refusing them in-work benefits for four years after they arrived in the UK.
Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic all reacted defensively to Mr Cameron’s demands which, if agreed to by Brussels, would discriminate against their citizens and run contrary to the principle of equal treatment enshrined in the EU treaties.
Poland’s incoming foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski, seen by some to be an emerging ally of Cameron in other European matters, shot back hard against the UK proposal:
“We are not happy about any moves to segregate people according to where they come from,” he said, “If Cameron wants to divide people according to their nationality then that is against the free movement of labour and the treaty.”
The UK’s Europe minister was quick to point out that the four-year benefit ban was just a proposal to start negotiations going. But offending those who are otherwise most inclined to support you does not strike us as a way to build a coalition—and building a coalition is what the UK is going to need to do if it hopes to get its way in these negotiations. As Walter Russell Mead wrote in the Times of London last year:
Americans don’t really understand why Britain hasn’t been able to do more to shape Europe to its (and our) liking. We look at 300 stunning years in which British diplomacy was the architect of coalition after coalition that preserved the liberties of Europe, and we ask ourselves where that talent has gone. What did Marlborough, the two Pitts, Castlereagh, Gladstone, Disraeli and Churchill have that seems to have eluded more recent generations of British leaders? […]Today Americans see Britain raging impotently at a system it seems unable to affect. Once-promising allies such as Poland have turned cold, Germany is on the point of writing Britain off and countries such as Holland, Sweden and Denmark, whose instincts are closest to Britain’s, are silently appalled as the nation they view as a natural leader and ally fails to develop a programme that they can fully support.The staunchly Protestant Britain of William III was able to bring the Pope himself into its grand alliance against Louis XIV; today Britain has a cause just as good and as important, but it appears to lack the wisdom to lead the reform movement that Europe urgently needs.
If the British government felt that its immigrant welfare demand was central to the renegotiations, it should have worked hard behind the scenes to buy Eastern European acquiescence beforehand. If not, it was unwise of British officials to tick off their much-needed allies. Either way, it indicates that London still is in need of a strategy, not just a renegotiation wish list.