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21st Oct 2018

Germany gives no ground to UK on EU migration

  • Merkel - No changes to EU freedom of movement rules. (Photo: Crown)

Angela Merkel gave no new ground to UK prime minister David Cameron on curbing EU migration following talks in London, stating that abuse of welfare benefits by EU migrants could be dealt with by governments.

Speaking on Wednesday evening (7 January) after a day of talks with the UK prime minister, and a visit to an exhibition on the history of Germany at the British Museum, the German chancellor reiterated her support for the UK remaining in the European Union.

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"We would very much like to have the UK in a strong and successful Europe,” she said.

But when questioned by reporters whether she would support changes to the EU treaties to crack down on so-called welfare tourism, Merkel played down the prospect.

“As regards freedom of movement, as David quite rightly said, we have no doubt about the principle of freedom of movement being in any way questioned. But we also have to look at abuse. We are looking at legislation here. We want to see how this plays out at local level,” she noted.

Cameron wants to toughen the rules on EU migrants entering the UK including a requirement that they have a job within six months of arriving in the UK.

He also wants them to wait four years before they can receive certain benefits and ending the payment of child benefit to dependents of EU migrants in their home country.

However, last autumn Cameron dropped a plan to cap the number EU nationals able to come to the UK following opposition from Berlin.

The meeting is one of a series of get-togethers planned by the German chancellor with world leaders as part of Germany’s presidency of the G7 group of the world’s richest nations.

For his part, Cameron struck a placatory tone in his remarks, commenting that “I support freedom of movement. But what I don’t support is the abuse of freedom of movement.”

He added that he was "convinced" he could "fix the problems" in the UK's relationship with Europe.

The UK will go to the polls in May, with Cameron’s Conservative party slightly behind the opposition Labour party, which has also proposed crackdowns on migrants’ access to welfare benefits, in most surveys.

However, rising support for the UK Independence party and the Scottish Nationalists suggests that neither major party is likely to form a majority on their own.

The prime minister has promised to renegotiate the UK’s membership terms if he wins the election, followed by an in-out referendum before the end of 2017.

But he indicated at the weekend that he would be “delighted” to hold the referendum sooner if possible. He also refused to rule out the prospect of a coalition with Ukip, which demands the UK’s exit from the 28-country bloc.

Meanwhile, Merkel maintained that she had “no doubt whatsoever” that Greece would stick to the terms of its bailout and remain in the eurozone, despite the likely prospect of the left-wing Syriza party winning parliamentary elections later this month”.

“Greece has actually made a lot of sacrifices for many, many people in Greece. These were very difficult years. We have come a long way,” Merkel said.

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