Cameron urges EU concessions on welfare
By Eszter Zalan
British prime minister David Cameron said on Friday (29 January) he had made progress on talks in Brussels over the UK’s membership of the EU, but not enough to clinch a deal at the next summit of EU leaders in February.
Cameron was in Brussels to meet with EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz.
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Both EU institutions are key to the talks, as they would have to agree to any legislative changes Cameron’s deal on reforming the UK’s relationship with the EU might entail.
A crucial point in Cameron’s demands over Britain’s relationship with the EU is curbing welfare benefits for EU workers for four years, a proposal criticised by eastern European countries.
The British prime minister told Sky News after talks that they had made progress on Friday, but it remained insufficient.
“The British people and I want a system where you have to pay in before you get [something] out,” he said.
“We have made progress today, but its not enough,” Cameron said.
The meeting with Juncker at the working lunch, which lasted over an hour and a half, was described as “difficult, but constructive” by a commission spokeswoman, who added that work will continue over the weekend.
EP president Schulz said that we are entering a “decisive moment” in preparing the UK referendum.
Cameron is to meet EU Council president Donald Tusk in London on Sunday. Tusk is expected come forward with a draft proposal for the member states on Monday on how to accommodate the British demands.
Tusk then will circulate his proposals among the EU capitals, and there is no guarantee fellow member states will agree before or at the February summit to the deal between Brussels and London.
On the crucial point of curbing benefits, in recent weeks the idea has emerged of introducing “emergency brakes” once a country’s welfare system is overwhelmed.
The brake could be requested by Britain for up to four years, if it could prove Britain's social and welfare system is under excessive strain from migration.
The brake would have to be approved by the other EU member states.
That might make it problematic for Cameron to argue to British voters that they stay in the EU, if the ultimate decision on curbing benefits is left to other countries.
John Redwood, a member of Conservatives for Britain, a group campaigning to leave the EU, told the BBC earlier on Friday that the brake proposal fell “well short” in the need for Britain to regain control of its borders.
“It says we have to beg, in extreme circumstances, for the permission of the rest of the EU to not make payments we don't want to make - it's simply a bad joke,” Redwood said.
It’s unclear yet how the emergency brake work in practice.
Earlier in the day, Cameron told the BBC that progress was being made but there was “a long way to go” before he could agree to the plan, and that the proposals on the table at the moment “were not strong enough”.
“I won't agree to something unless it has the force and the weight that we need to solve the problems that we have,” he said ahead of his meetings with EU officials in Brussels.