Cameron’s Campaign for EU Consensus


There is nothing unusual about two men walking past the European Parliament in Brussels deep in conversation.

But these two have machine guns strapped over their shoulders and are wearing army fatigues.

It’s just one of the signs of the heightened security in the city following the Paris terror attacks.

Several of those behind the atrocity came from the district of Molenbeek just a few miles from the Parliament.

But now the city is getting back to normal after it was put into lockdown for five days following information about another potential attack.

Schools, shops and public transport were all closed, and people living in the city say they felt on edge.

The armed soldiers are meant to reassure as well as protect, and the locals we speak to are relieved that the tension is easing.

This is the backdrop for David Cameron’s visit to the city for a European Council meeting.

He’s hoping to convince fellow leaders to back his plans to reform the UK’s relationship with the rest of the EU.

But he has a tough job on his hands judging by the reaction of some of the MEPs we speak to.

Cameron has laid out four key demands for reform that he says must be agreed before he will campaign for the UK to remain part of the EU.

One of them in particular is proving a stumbling block.

He wants a ban on EU migrants coming to the UK claiming in-work benefits for their first four years in the country.

Whatever your views of the European Parliament, you can’t deny there are people who feel passionately about the union between the 28 nations.

Take the German Green MEP Terry Reintke.

When she was elected last year she thought she was the youngest MEP in the parliament at the age of 28, until she found out there is a Hungarian member 2 months her junior. Now, she jokes, she feels old.

When I begin to ask her about how she would feel if the UK was to vote to leave the EU, she breaks off the interview. She tells me she wants to take a moment to gather herself.

This isn’t an issue over language – her English is flawless.

She says she feels so strongly that the UK should remain part of the EU that she struggles to maintain her professional demeanour. That’s quite an admission from a politician.

But there are also those who feel sympathy with what David Cameron is hoping to achieve.

One Danish MEP tells us if the EU loses its second biggest economy it would leave the organisation in turmoil, so the leaders should think how to approach Cameron’s demands constructively.

It’s difficult to gauge just how high up the list of priorities the UK referendum on membership of the EU is for the other member states.

The terror threat, a refugee crisis, climate change, the collapse of the Greek economy – there are several big issues competing for attention.

Whatever happens at this European Council summit next week, it’s almost certain a deal will not be reached.

That means David Cameron may be forced to consider watering down his proposals ahead of the next meeting of the council in February next year.

One thing is clear: the Prime Minister has several months of tough negotiations ahead of him if he is to get what he wants.

You can watch the full report and interview for Scotland Tonight with senior German MEP David McAllister here.


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