European Parliament president warns UK that support not guaranteed

Martin Schulz tells David Cameron he will move swiftly on UK demands for new EU deal

Britain’s Prime minister David Cameron is welcomed by European Parliament President Martin Schulz at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday. Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

Britain’s Prime minister David Cameron is welcomed by European Parliament President Martin Schulz at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday. Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

 

European Parliament president Martin Schulz pledged to move Britain’s demands for a new EU deal through the European Parliament swiftly, but warned that the Parliament’s support could not be guaranteed.

Speaking after a meeting with British prime minister David Cameron in Brussels on Tuesday, the head of the European Parliament said that, in the event of Britain voting to remain in the EU, the European Parliament would start the legislative process “immediately”, but added: “I can’t give the outcome of future legislation.”

“No government can go to a parliament and say: this is our proposal, can you give a guarantee about the result. In a democracy that is not possible,” he said.

While any agreement by the heads of state and government at an EU summit this week in Brussels will be binding, the European Parliament will need to approve aspects of the deal, including secondary legislation concerning the “emergency brake” on migrants’ benefits.

Mr Cameron met Mr Schulz, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and the main European Parliament negotiators in Brussels yesterday ahead of Thursday’s crunch summit.

A Downing Street spokesman said the meetings had been constructive.

“They all offered their support for solutions in each of the four areas and, in particular, committed to work hard to ensure that the relevant secondary legislation on the emergency brake and child benefit is swiftly adopted by the parliament.”

EU leaders will try to reach agreement on a draft settlement tabled by European Council president Donald Tusk two weeks ago at the two-day summit which begins in Brussels on Thursday.

Speaking in Prague, Mr Tusk said he believed that the proposal on the table was “far and balanced” but he added: “There’s an extra mile we have to walk to reach an agreement on Thursday.”

Mr Tusk visited Athens, Prague and Berlin on Tuesday as part of his pre-summit tour of European capitals in an effort to shore up last-minute support for the deal ahead of Thursday’s summit.

In a sign of the obstacles still ahead as Britain seeks to secure a deal this week, Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka said after his meeting with the European Council leader that there were still open issues surrounding the question of exclusion of immigrant workers from benefits and changes to child support payments.

Among the most contentious aspects of the draft settlement is a proposal to curb in-work benefits to newly arriving migrants to Britain, as well as a proposal to index-link child welfare payments to wage levels in the country where the child resides.

Following a meeting of four central and east European countries known as the “Visegrad” group in Prague on Monday, the leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia demanded clarity over whether restrictions on child benefit would apply to EU citizens already residing in Britain.

Mr Cameron spoke to the Czech and Dutch prime ministers by phone on Tuesday as part of an intense round of diplomacy ahead of Thursday’s summit. With an emergency cabinet meeting provisionally pencilled in for Friday afternoon in London, Mr Cameron is hoping to secure an agreement this week in Brussels ahead of a referendum which is likely to take place in June.

In addition to the continuing concern from central and east European member states about new proposals on migrants’ access to benefits, discussion on Thursday evening is likely to focus on British demands to secure greater rights for non- euro member states.