Donald Tusk is not exactly front page news...
In Britain, Brexit has taken a back seat in the month since the Prime Minister wrote to Donald Tusk outlining his reform proposals. There have been plenty of other events making the headlines.
There was the horror of Paris, and the beauty of Wembley, where England fans sang the Marseillaise.
Parliament’s debate and subsequent vote in favour of air strikes in Syria dominated last week's news. The chaotic ‘new politics’ of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party leadership continued with the hard-Left leader voting against air strikes, while his Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, and half of his Shadow Cabinet, voted with David Cameron’s government.
Mr Benn gave such a stirring speech in the debate that he won a round of applause from his fellow MPs – an extremely rare sight in the House of Commons, where clapping is actually banned. Commentators began speculating whether Mr Benn could challenge Mr Corbyn for the leadership, but the talk of ‘Hilary 2016’ seems premature.
A minor terrorist attack in an East London Tube station gave birth to the hashtag #YouAintNoMuslimBruv followed by the strange sight of our famously posh Prime Minister saying it out loud.
Recent days have also seen a storm called Desmond terrorise the North West of England, Oscar Pistorius convicted of murder and surprise package Leicester City move top of the Premier League while José Mourinho’s Chelsea contrive to sit in 14th place.
In other words there has been so much going on, that no one really noticed Donald Tusk’sletter responding to David Cameron’s renegotiation proposals. It hardly registered as a news story in the UK. The only Donald who is making British headlines is the one running to be President of the United States.
A pessimistic press
If you dig deep enough, however, you can find a reaction to Mr Tusk’s letter, and it is far from positive about what he had to say.
Newspapers from across the political spectrum see the letter as a rebuttal for Mr Cameron. While it is agreed that Mr Tusk made positive noises about three of the four ‘baskets’ for reform, this is considered to matter for very little, because of what he had to say about the fourth basket - the demand that EU migrants work in Britain for four years before they can draw certain benefits. Mr Tusk referred to this reform proposal as ‘the most delicate’ and made it clear that it would not be acceptable in its current form. The headlines in Britain focus squarely on this.
For the Independent, Mr Tusk’s letter signals that David Cameron is ‘set for defeat as leaders reject his demand to block benefits for EU migrants’, while The Times reports that ‘Cameron’s EU deal faces collapse over failure to budge on benefits’. The Times characterises Mr Tusk’s letter as a ‘warning’ to the Prime Minister to ‘back down’ on his plan to stop EU migrants from claiming certain benefits.
The Daily Telegraph also sees Mr Tusk’s letter as a demand for the Prime Minister to compromise on this issue: ‘EU’s Donald Tusk tells David Cameron: No deal over welfare plan’ the paper says.
The BBC’s analysis also focuses on the fourth basket, reporting ‘No consensus over UK welfare reforms’. The setback that Donald Tusk’s letter represents leaves the UK’s future in the EU ‘in the balance’ according to former Chancellor Alistair Darling.
‘…all member states and the institutions must show readiness for compromise’
While most British newspapers think Mr Tusk is demanding compromise from Mr Cameron, Stephen Booth, co-director of Open Europe in London suggests otherwise. In his letter, Mr Tusk does not call on the UK alone to be willing to compromise, but ‘all member states’. ‘Reading between the lines’ the tone of the letter suggests that Mr Tusk is asking other member states and the EU institutions to be more accommodating towards Britain’s proposals.
The only voices making this point in the British press are the broadly pro-EU Guardian and Financial Times. They say that Mr Tusk is calling on all sides, and not just Britain to be flexible.
Interestingly, on the Continent, Germany’s Die Welt argues that, if anything, it is the EU that will be flexible, rather than the UK. ‘Jetzt will die EU den Briten ganz schnell entgegenkommen’ runs the headline. The paper argues that Mr Tusk’s letter is calling on other EU leaders to send a positive answer back to London, and quickly.
A ‘staged row’
No matter what David Cameron says, he is universally expected to back the campaign to remain in the EU, regardless of the outcome of his renegotiation. This leads many to suggest that the entire renegotiation process is a sham.
The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman asks whether David Cameron is ‘having a staged row with Donald Tusk?’, while the chief executive of Vote Leave, Matthew Elliot, is quoted by the Financial Times saying that Mr Cameron is having ‘a manufactured row’ with the EU to make his renegotiation ‘sound more significant than it really is’.
‘…we should be able to prepare a concrete proposal to be finally adopted in February’
Before he wrote this in his letter, Mr Tusk had already warned the Prime Minister against trying to rush his renegotiation at the December European Council. It now looks quite certain that the British press won’t be getting too excited about Brexit this side of Christmas.
Edward Aldred has recently graduated from the University of Oxford, where he studied German. He is currently working as an intern with Open Europe Berlin.