Why Cameron's handshake with Europe was just the start

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Following frantic weeks of discussions between Britain and the rest of Europe, our CEO Natalie Reynolds wrote a piece on the EU re-negotiations on LinkedIn. The article is below and can be viewed here.

Let the real negotiations commence! Why Cameron's handshake with Europe was just the start.

So, after months of speculation, posturing, meetings and analysis… and numerous photos of David Cameron looking like he could do with a good night’s sleep… ‘we have a deal’ on Britain’s status in the EU.

As news of the deal trickled out on social media, announced by EU President Donald Tusk with the tweet “Deal. Unanimous support for new settlement for #UKinEU." we immediately saw all of the interested parties stating their view on whether the deal was a success. This included the EU Commission President labelling the deal as ‘fair’, the CEO of the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign stating it is a ‘hollow victory’ and Cameron declaring that the deal gives the UK a ‘special status’ in Europe.

Deal headlines: The deal agreed with the 27 other EU leaders last night includes:

* Cuts in child benefit for the children of EU migrants living overseas with implantation depending on arrival date

* In cases of ‘exceptional’ levels of migration there will be a seven-year "emergency brake" on migrants' in-work benefits

* Amending of EU treaties to state that references to ever-closer union "do not apply to the United Kingdom"

* The ability for the UK to enact "an emergency safeguard" to protect the City of London

Is it legally binding? At a late press conference last night, David Cameron was triumphant in his analysis of the deal he had been able to secure for the UK, even though some EU insiders are already claiming that the terms of the deal will be challenged in court. Although as Europe’s leading legal minds begin the almost inevitable process of analysing the validity of the deal, the more pressing issue for Cameron should be that the negotiations are in fact, only just beginning.

This is just the start: Cameron’s handshake with Tusk was in fact only the starting gun for what are likely to be the more challenging, emotive and bitter negotiations in relation to Britain’s role in Europe. This is because Cameron now has to negotiate with his most challenging counterparties; his colleagues in the Conservative party and the people of Britain. With a referendum being proposed as early as June this year, Cameron and his team now have to completely shift their attention to negotiating with the people who will be really making the ultimate decision, the public. Of course, how big his ‘team’ is also depends on how Conservative MP’s plan to campaign. With a Cabinet meeting scheduled for 10am this morning, the internal negotiations within the Conservative Party will already have been well under way over the last few weeks and certainly with more intensity once last nights announcement was made. But it is the people of the UK that will prove the most challenging of counterparts. A diverse and opinionated bunch (and therefore hard to handle in terms of influencing with messaging in relation to the EU question), Cameron needs to ensure that he has understood the most important question when seeking to enter into a negotiation…’What’s in it for me?’

The ‘What’s in it for me?’ test: One of the most important stages in planning for a negotiation is to get inside the head of your counterparty. See the world through their eyes. Understand what motivates, excites and scares them. The more you understand about what makes them tick, the more you can use that to your advantage. This allows you to carve out the right messaging, develop proposals that appeal to those involved and establish what to avoid in order to prevent failure. When dealing with multiple interests, as Cameron is here, he would be wise to ensure that he has mapped out all of the potential motivators for all his potential counterparties, be that a political opponent, a businessman in the City or a secretary from Slough. Ultimately, the general UK electorate will be asking themselves before any referendum ‘What’s in it for me?’…but so will that businessman or political opponent. And for all of them, that consideration will be different. This is why the comments by the boss of easyJet that flights will be more expensive for holidaymakers if we leave the EU garnered as much press interest as what it will mean for global banks headquartered in Canary Wharf and the City.

Make them feel like they are winning: Cameron’s counterparts living in different towns and cities across the UK will be motivated by a range of things from the cost of their flights to migration control. From the capacity in the NHS to the perceived control of our legal system. The decision whether to vote ‘stay’ or ‘leave’ will be impacted by personal outlook and political leaning and for some it will simply be a case or what their heart tells them on the day. This is the challenge of all negotiations. Whilst you may be utterly convinced by the validity and strength of your position, your task is to find a way to convince your counterparty that your way is also the right way for them. You need to make them feel ‘heard’. You need to inspire them. You need to make them feel that they are ‘winning’.

The ‘string pullers’: After months of engaging with EU leaders and forging a deal that had to satisfy their requirements (so the people of other EU countries could also feel like they were winning), the emphasis now changes. The ‘real’ string pullers of the EU negotiations have their turn in the driving seat. Cameron is now answerable to the people of the UK who will decide whether the terms of last night’s deal are really enough for them. Any smart negotiator knows that the 28 EU leaders hammering out a deal were actually only the messengers. All of them were in fact negotiating with one eye back home, trying to pacify, reassure and galvanise the people back home who are really pulling the strings. Just as any commercial negotiator knows that a deal is influenced not just by the people sat at the negotiating table. It might also be influenced by shareholders, union officials, line managers, consumers and the trade press. And in your planning for that negotiation you need to have understood the impact they will have both on the deal agreed and on any interaction post that deal.

Just as in the commercial world when a contract of supply is signed, or in a marriage where a register is, often the most challenging conversations and negotiations happen once the initial deal is done. Be that on missed performance, changes in expectations or a clash of personalities or opinions, the negotiations that are often the most difficult, protracted and emotive are the ones that occur once you have already signed on the dotted line.

Cameron’s job now is to begin the next stage of his EU negotiations. His ability to get the result he wants will depend on whether he has really understood his counterparties interests and how he makes the ‘man or woman on the street’ feel like they have won.