What European Countries Were Hoping For—and What They Actually Got—at the EU Summit

Weirdly the whole circus wasn't just about the competing egos of David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

by Gavin Haynes
Feb 22 2016, 3:30pm

Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande. Photo by Eoghan OLionnain

This post originally appeared on VICE UK.

This was dubbed a "three-shirt summit." On Friday, after two days of hog-sweating it in Brussels, long after David Cameron's bleary-eyed 5:30 AM departure for a two-hour nap, the EU's 28 leaders were told they were all going to need to get back on and purchase hotel rooms for one more night.

But the madness isn't how long it lasts, it's that it ends at all. The logistics of making 28 heads of state agree on anything are mind-bending. After all, everyone has to be made better-off by any deal the leaders sign. Have you ever tried to simultaneously give 28 people what they want?

Contrary to British egotistic belief, the attendees at last week's EU summit didn't all turn up just to make sure Dave can see down the challenge of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. European PMs and presidents all have their own Boris Johnsons and their own challenges, with their own cranky electorates pointing very different guns to their heads, the likes of which we don't even understand. Lithuanian social media campaigns over dairy subsidies. The Maltese obsession with EU red tape on its plug spanner industry. The Cypriot BoJo menacing the Cypriot PM in the polls with his challenge over ATM taxes.

Yet somehow, everyone won. So everyone signed. How exactly? Scratch the surface with our guide to the week's winners and winners.



The Belgians are the biggest Euro suck-ups in the whole place. Not only does their economy depend on the Brussels gravy train pulling into Bruxelles-Midi laden with delicious gravy, they also live in a small country. Pretty much all the minnows are in favor of everything EU because it stands up for their interests against the bigger bully-boys. Without the EU, Belgium is just the welcome mat to future invasions of France, and so, coming into the summit, the leaders were the only ones arguing against any brakes on an "ever-closer union." The Belgians want as much of a closer union as they can possibly have, and they won't be satisfied until they're so close they can feel the EU from the inside.


The insertion of a clause stating that Cameron's deal was a final offer. That, after last weekend, Britain could never again come back to the table and ask for another helping of national sovereignty. "There's no second chances," Belgian PM Charles Michel proudly proclaimed.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Photo by Panagiotis Maidis



Greece's far-left Syriza government came into this EU summit less concerned about its economic death-spiral than it has been in a long time, only because its already kerosene-doused politics has been set fully ablaze by the tens of thousands of migrants still turning up every week at Europe's southeastern border.


Within hours, Alexis Tsipras's government declared its intent to block any Brexit treaty if other EU states continued to close their borders to refugees. This was a coded reference to the Austrians, who've started introducing daily caps. Cue: enough panic to win the Greeks a one-on-one joint summit with the Austrians, which ended in the pair vaguely declaring their intent to "co-operate better."

French President Francois Hollande. Photo by Jean-Marc Ayrault



To look imperious by ignoring the whole sideshow. Francois Hollande is under so much pressure at home over terrorism and his still-tanking economy that he would be seen as aloof and trivial if he got too deep into arguing the toss on Brexit.


An agreement that non-Eurozone countries like Britain can't veto financial rules that only concern the Eurozone countries—thereby allowing the Eurozone to hurtle toward its doom much more efficiently.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen. Photo by News Oresund



To use Britain as a patsy/battering ram for all the unpleasantness the Danes don't want to throw their own moral weight into. Like the UK leaders, the Danes also seem to have to hold their noses and make gagging gestures every time they walk into a summit room with Merkel and Hollande. The minority party in the Danish government, the Danish People's Party, is staunchly anti-migration, so the members were only too happy to endorse Cameron's plans to index-link child benefits paid back to children in migrants' home countries to the cost of living in those countries. In fact, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen claimed that this had also been his idea, calling it "a flower in my garden."


The flower in Rassmussen's garden:

"A proposal to amend Regulation (EC) No 883/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the coordination of social security systems in order to give Member States, with regard to the exportation of child benefits to a Member State other than that where the worker resides, an option to index such benefits to the conditions of the Member State where the child resides. This should apply only to new claims made by EU workers in the host Member State. However, as from 1 January 2020, all Member States may extend indexation to existing claims to child benefits already exported by EU workers. The Commission does not intend to propose that the future system of optional indexation of child benefits be extended to other types of exportable benefits, such as old-age pensions."


German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo courtesy of Christliches Medienmagezin pro



Britain. The Germans understand that without Britain their beloved Euro empire is just them and the French on a series of screechingly awkward dates. They know that once Britain leaves, the French and the Spaniards and Italians will gang up to force through more high-tax protectionist measures, which wouldn't help the Germans sell cars to Americans. Britain's an unlikely soulmate, but a soulmate nonetheless, which is why Mrs. Merkel spent the week waving through all Cameron's carping about migrant benefits, standing up for his demands as "logical and reasonable" before the summit, and intervening again and again in the summit room like a tiger mom at her kid's debating tournament.


Britain? Or at least, enough flimsy concessions to allow David Cameron to go back and go on about Peace In Our Time for a weekend.



Counseling to overcome their own inferiority complexes. The Visegrad states are the four richer nations of eastern Europe: Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. To them, the debate over child benefits had become a referendum over whether their working-abroad citizens were going to be put in dunce caps and seated at the front of the class just because Joe Stalin rolled over their nations' lawns in 1945. "We agree we need reform," admitted Czech Minister Tomas Prouza. "But historically, we were second-class citizens in Europe for 45 years. The memory is still with us, and I can't imagine any Central European prime minister would agree to reinstate second-class citizenship."


A reduction from 13 years to seven years for the length of Cameron's benefits "emergency brake" and some similar meaningless "concessions" from original negotiating positions that allowed them to go home and announce that they broke the spirit of the British oppressors.

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