Holding the EU Together

Stressed by a long recession and a new refugee crisis, the European Union granted extraordinary concessions to London to keep Great Britain from splitting away from the Continent, but the glue holding the fragile union together may increasingly be an exaggerated fear of Russia, writes Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

On Saturday, we woke up to the largely unexpected news of a solution to Britain’s demand for officially recognized “special status’” within the European Union. Just hours earlier, the reporters of Euronews were busily explaining that there was lack of consensus among the heads of state in the European Council about the deep concessions demanded by the British government.

We were told time was running out, that the debates on Britain had pushed aside much needed discussion of the migrant crisis, also planned for the summit that began Thursday evening. For British Prime Minister David Cameron, any postponement of a deal would have jeopardized his plans for a referendum on Brexit later this spring.

British Prime Minister David Cameron.

British Prime Minister David Cameron.

After the “special status” agreement, there were mostly smiles among the high European Union officials interviewed for comments on the compromise deal. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Council President Donald Tusk were visibly delighted at having pulled the rabbit from a hat. Meanwhile, the facial expressions of French President Francois Hollande and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel betrayed disappointment and resignation.

Though it is by no means clear that the concessions that Cameron received in Brussels will be enough to overcome the opposition from “Brexit” partisans in the U.K. and give the E.U. supporters the upper hand in a tight contest of public opinion, the concessions were, in fact, tangible, significant and immediate. For the E.U., they put in question the momentum towards ever greater unity, a goal from which the British received an express opt-out.

The settlement also allows Britain to cut benefits to nationals of other E.U. member states residing in England and so to jeopardize the freedom of movement within the E.U. that Continentals recognize as a fundamental pillar…

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