Monday

22nd Jul 2019

EU and UK caught in bad romance, Juncker warns

  • Juncker - "no debate, dialogue or compromise" on freedom of movement. (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

European Commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker has given the clearest hint yet that he would be prepared to see the UK leave the EU, comparing the UK’s 42-year membership of the bloc to a romance gone wrong.

“People shouldn’t stay together if conditions aren’t the same as when things started,” said Juncker in Paris at the weekend, quipping that “it’s easy to fall in love and more difficult to stay together".

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The UK joined the then European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, a decision confirmed by a referendum in 1975, but has long been regarded by many as an ‘awkward partner’.

“I am for the respect of member states, respect between the institutions and member states. I am against all forms of grovelling,” said Juncker.

Meanwhile, he ruled out the prospect of UK-pushed treaty changes to reform EU rules on free movement saying that there would be “no debate, dialogue or compromise” on an issue which he described as "red lines which could not be crossed".

“We can fight against abuses - and national lawmakers can do that - but the EU won’t change the treaties to satisfy the whim of certain politicians,” added Juncker.

The commission president's stance is a political blow to prime minister David Cameron ahead of the UK’s general election in May.

Cameron has promised to re-negotiate the UK’s EU membership terms if his Conservative party forms a majority, followed by an ‘in/out’ referendum in 2017.

The UK prime minister’s rhetoric on EU migration is likely to intensify in the coming weeks, with surveys suggesting that immigration, rather than the economy or public services, is the most important issue to voters.

Opinion polls at the weekend put Cameron’s Conservative party on 28 percent, five points behind the Labour party and only eight ahead of Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party.

While other EU countries, particularly in northern Europe, have complained about so-called ‘welfare tourism’, with Angela Merkel’s German government proposing legislation to curb access to child benefits and other payments, Cameron wants to go further by requiring all EU migrants to have a job within six months of arriving in the UK.

He also wants them to pay into the UK’s tax and social security programmes for four years before they can receive certain benefits and plans to end 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 amid opposition from Berlin and other capitals, and following warnings that this would breach the EU treaties.

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