Final mile or country mile? Getting ready for the European Council

A continent awaits

Just a brief post this morning, since we stand on the verge of the European Council that will sort out everything for the UK. Possibly.

Or possibly not.

As always, the capacity of the EU to make life even harder than it already it for itself should never be underestimated: despite no-one having a good reason to block a deal today or tomorrow, that doesn’t mean someone won’t end up blocking a deal, for what will strike them as perfectly reasonable reasons. Indeed, since everyone knows we can come back to the European Council next month, that might seem no bad thing, in order to get a ‘better’ deal.

The problems with that are clear: delay will put people’s backs up, make it likely that counter-challenges are deployed and generally put the British vote into an even more uncertain position. Assuming everyone is sincere in their desire to keep the UK in, then being the one to halt the package that Tusk has put together looks positively contrary.

And so we wait, breath baited.

What should we look out for over the next couple of days? Three things immediately stand out.

The first is┬áthe way that the British handle this meeting. One of the most striking aspects of the run-up to this summit has been the unwillingness to make any one provision of the package THE central point: even welfare payments has been framed as just part of the whole. Given the challenges from different countries on different points, is there anything that the UK positively won’t accept losing? And remember that stuff can stay in a text and become lost, purely by all the conditions attached.

And that’s the second point to watch. How far will states (and the EU) go in trying to ring-fence this deal? That means both for other countries thinking about trying it on, and about any provisions becoming the thin end of very big wedges. Exhibit A is the provisions CEEs want to put around the limiting of child benefit, to make clear it won’t extend to other benefits like pensions.

Finally, keep an eye out for the next stage. However this meeting plays out, it will be an important marker for the British referendum. Thus the media messaging that comes from Cameron, from other leaders, and from domestic actors will all matter. Central in this will be the extent to which this deal is seen to matter. A good example here is Nigel Farage, who vacillates between saying the deal isn’t worth anything and worrying that the European Parliament will block it and render it worthless (worthless-er, then?).

So, grab a mug of hot cocoa and your slanket and get ready for a long night: with everyone wanting to look tough on this, I’d not expect discussions to finish until late into the night.