From two-speed Europe to emergency brake, EU lingo decoded

AP News
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Posted: Feb 18, 2016 5:40 AM
From two-speed Europe to emergency brake, EU lingo decoded

The European Union can be a bewildering place, full of mystifying acronyms and impenetrable jargon. With EU leaders meeting Thursday and Friday to thrash out a deal that aims to keep Britain in the bloc, here are some key terms deciphered:

EUROPEAN UNION: Formed in 1957 as the European Economic Community by France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands, the group is now a 28-nation bloc of more than 500 million people stretching from Ireland to the Aegean Sea with substantial powers over member states' laws, economies and social policies. Britain joined in 1973, but has always been a less enthusiastic member than many of its neighbors.

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EUROPEAN COUNCIL: Made up of the 28 heads of state or government, plus a president (currently Poland's Donald Tusk), the council sets the EU's direction and must agree major changes like those sought by Britain. It says any deal it strikes at this week's summit will be legally binding and irreversible.

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FOUR BASKETS: Britain is seeking change to its relationship with the EU in four areas, known as baskets: economic governance; competitiveness; sovereignty; and social benefits and free movement. The last one has met with the most opposition from other EU leaders.

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EVER CLOSER UNION: The EU's founding treaty called for an "ever closer union among the peoples of Europe," and the language remains on the books. Cameron wants a guarantee it won't apply to Britain, saying recently that "for us (the EU) is principally a common market and not an ever closer union."

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EUROPEAN SUPER-STATE: Only ever used negatively, this is what "ever closer union" will inevitably lead to, according to opponents of the EU.

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FREE MOVEMENT: Free movement — of people, goods, services and capital — is a fundamental principle of the EU. Citizens of all EU countries may live and work in any other EU country and, crucially, get "equal treatment with nationals in access to employment, working conditions and all other social and tax advantages."

Britain wants to bar workers from other EU countries from receiving some benefits for several years in order to curb "welfare tourism" — workers coming to the U.K. because of its supposedly generous welfare system. Many EU leaders see this as a violation of the free-movement principle.

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EMERGENCY BRAKE: A compromise the EU is offering Britain to curb benefits. The proposal says countries may limit free movement of workers if there is a "risk of seriously undermining the sustainability of social security systems." Britain can introduce limits on benefits by claiming its welfare system is under strain from half a million European immigrants who have come to the country in the past decade. Some details of the emergency brake — including how long it will last — are still the subject of wrangling.

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TWO-SPEED EUROPE: The original six "core Europe" member states recently restated their commitment to "ever closer union." But countries including Britain — and, to an extent, some Scandinavian and eastern European nations — want to remain aloof from some aspects of the EU project, including the euro single currency. Some, though not all, European officials view this as a problem for the bloc's long-term unity.

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THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS: What Cameron says Britons will get if they accept his deal and vote to remain in the EU in a referendum to be held by next year. He says Britain will keep access to the EU's open markets but see a reduction in Brussels-created red tape and interference.