BRUSSELS – On paper, there's not much of a gap between Britain and its 27 European Union partners over the changes the U.K. seeks to its relationship with the bloc. EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday are ready to sign off on most of a draft agreement. Still, here's a look at a few sticking points that could yet scuttle the deal:
WHO WILL GET BENEFITS?
The draft deal offers Britain the chance to temporarily limit paying some welfare benefits to immigrants from other EU countries because the "exceptional inflow of workers" to Britain in recent years has placed the U.K. welfare system under a severe strain. But the draft text says the limit would apply only to workers who arrive in the future, not those already there, potentially a problem for British Prime Minister David Cameron. And the text says the limit would apply for "X'' years — the specific number has not yet been agreed.
LOOKING FOR A EUROZONE GUARANTEE
Britain is seeking an explicit guarantee that the nine EU countries that don't use the shared euro currency can't be steamrollered or sidelined by the 19 that do. But going into Thursday's summit, chunks of the draft saying that financial decisions and governance in non-eurozone countries are a "matter for their own authorities and own budgetary responsibility" are in square brackets, indicating that they have not yet been agreed upon.
CHANGE THE TREATY?
Britain wants protection for non-eurozone countries enshrined in the EU's core treaty the next time it is amended, but the other countries have not yet agreed to this major change and say it's unnecessary. Britain also wants the treaty changed to exempt the U.K. from an "ever closer union," an insistence that has annoyed some of its neighbors, especially France.
"It's the EU in question, not just one country in the EU," French President Francois Hollande said Thursday. "We cannot stop Europe from advancing."