Two hurdles to overcome for EU renegotiation deal

David Cameron has two major hurdles to overcome to clinch his EU renegotiation deal Credit: PA

Three days to go and the deal is still not done. If Thursday’s “Brexit” summit is going to produce a deal, there are two clear hurdles still to overcome. One is France, which is why David Cameron is in Paris tonight.

The other is Eastern Europe, or more precisely Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, who call themselves the ‘Visegrad Four’.

Video report by ITV News Europe editor James Mates:

The four are meeting in Prague on Monday afternoon to hammer out a common position that they say they will be bringing to Brussels. We don’t yet know exactly what they will say, but they assure us that all four will be negotiating as one.

Timeline: David Cameron's crucial week in EU renegotiation

This morning in Prague the Europe Minister of the Czech Republic, Tomas Prousa, gave me a pretty good run-down of what the problems are likely to be. In essence they are happy with the compromise on migrant benefits hammered out between London and Brussels, but with two significant reservations.

They accept that the UK has a particular problem with EU migration, and are happy with plans for London to index the child benefit paid to workers whose children live abroad. In other words, if you have left your children behind in a country where the cost of living is lower, you will receive less in child benefit.

But, and this is a big but, they do not want every country to be able to do this. Already they have heard Germany, Austria, Denmark and others suggesting they’re keen to do the same thing.

‘No’, say the Visegrad Four, ‘this must only apply to the UK to tackle their particular problem with migration. We can’t accept that everyone will do this’.

And this may present quite a problem when the talking starts for real on Thursday night.

Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, one of the so-called 'Visegrad Four' David Cameron will need to win over to secure his EU renegotiation Credit: Wiktor Dabkowski / DPA/PA

On the issue of the ‘emergency brake’ as it has been called, under which a country can ask to cut in-work benefits for new arrivals, the East Europeans are happy in principle, and happy that it should be allowed to last for the recommended four years. But, they say, the brake cannot be applied again and again, indefinitely into the future.

If circumstance justify it, they would be happy for a country to have a second go, for a shorter time, maybe two or three years. But then that would be it.

This may well prove an acceptable compromise to David Cameron. He could claim that he still had his ‘four year emergency brake’, which is not quite the four year outright ban that he promised in his election manifesto, but is similar.

Whether the Prime Minister will find common ground with President Hollande in Paris, though, may be a trickier matter.

David Cameron meets French president Francois Hollande in Paris tonight Credit: PA

France has no real objection to the restrictions on migrant benefits. It is the measures to protect the interests of the City of London against the combined votes of Eurozone that is exercising politicians in Paris. They are determined that the UK should not be given any weapon with which they can prevent or delay further Eurozone integration.

Ironically the hardest talking on Thursday night may turn out to be about an issue that many commentators had regarded as largely settled.