Sunday

23rd Feb 2020

British PM in 'difficult' talks on EU welfare

  • Cameron (r) and Polish president Duda at a previous meeting in London (Photo: Downing Street)

British PM David Cameron is visiting Poland and Romania to sell the idea of imposing welfare restrictions on internal EU migrants.

He said in Bucharest on Wednesday (9 December), after meeting president Klaus Iohannis, that he recognises the welfare proposal is "particularly … difficult."

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"I support the principle of free movement to work - it is a basic treaty right and a key part of the single market. And Romanians, alongside other Europeans, make a valuable contribution to the United Kingdom," he said.

"But it was never envisaged that free movement would trigger quite such vast numbers of people moving across our continent. And countries have got to be able to cope with all the pressures that it can bring - on our schools, our hospitals, and other public services."

He noted that net immigration to the UK is "well over 300,000 a year and that is not sustainable."

"So we do need to find ways to allow member states to make changes to their social security systems."

Thorny bramble

His proposal to stop EU migrants from claiming benefits for the first four years is a thorny bramble in eastern Europe, where many people see free movement to the richer west as a principal benefit of EU membership.

But tabloid predictions of mass arrivals of Romanians to Britiain after they got the right to work there from 1 January 2014 never came true.

Cameron also wants other changes if he is to campaign for the UK to stay in the EU in its upcoming referendum: to cut the phrase "ever closer union" from the treaty; protect the City from eurozone decisions; and give more power to national MPs.

He noted in Romania he will "start" the talks at next week’s summit, before "further discussions" in February.

He met with Polish PM Beata Szydlo in Warsaw on Wednesday evening. He will also meet Polish president Andrzej Duda on Thursday.

There is no indication that he'll meet Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the ruling Law and Justice party, who is widely seen as pulling the strings in Warsaw.

For her part, Szydlo said the welfare restrictions are "a point we cannot accept."

But she added: "We are prepared to support Great Britain, so that it stays in the European Union. It is extraordinarily important for the shape of the Union and also for us for the same reason."

Referendum

The British leader, in an interview with UK weekly The Spectator published on Wednesday, also warned that the mass arrival of asylum seekers in Europe is likely to sway British voters against the EU.

"I think with both the eurozone crisis and the migration crisis, the short term impact is for people to think: ‘Oh Christ, push Europe away from me. It’s bringing me problems'," he said.

"The short term reaction can be: 'Get me out of here'."

But he said the "longer term reaction" will be to "find a better way of working with our partners because we share the same challenges."

The interview came out the same day the European Commission reported that more than 1 million people asked for protection in the EU in the first 11 months of the year.

The record beats the previous one-year high, of 672,000, in 1992 during the break up of the former Yugoslavia.

Cameron is expected to call the EU referendum in June or in the autumn. A poll by ORB in November said 52 percent of people will vote to leave.

Tusk: UK reform talks are 'difficult'

The European Council president said there is "no consensus" on British demands to cut benefits for EU citizens and urged EU leaders to find a compromise before February.

EU aims for UK deal in February

In December, EU leaders will hold initial talks. In February, they'll try to agree on reforms to keep Britain in the EU. "It will be all about the details."

UK and EU ready to compromise on EU migration

Reports say the British prime minister would drop his demands to cut benefits for EU workers in the UK while the EU would promise a system to cap EU migration to the UK in case of emergency.

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