quinta-feira, 17 de dezembro de 2015

Cameron demands ‘effective’ answer to EU migration

Cameron demands ‘effective’ answer to EU migration

British prime minister seeks ‘flexibility’ to address public concerns about Europe.

By TARA PALMERI 12/17/15, 6:47 PM CET Updated 12/17/15, 11:26 PM CET

British Prime Minister David Cameron warned his fellow EU leaders Thursday that “unprecedented” levels of migration were “a major concern of the British people that is undermining support for the European Union.”

In remarks kicking off a Brussels summit debate on his proposals for reforms aimed at avoiding a British exit from the EU, Cameron said the bloc needed to find an “effective answer” to the migration problem, which was putting “pressures” on public services in his country.

“Countries need flexibility so they can make changes to their welfare systems to better manage migration,” Cameron said.

European leaders arrived for the meeting ready to hold their ground against Cameron’s key demand to limit welfare benefits for EU migrants, the crucial sticking point in negotiations ahead of a British referendum on its membership of the Union.

Although nobody was expecting a deal to be struck at the meeting — leaders now hope to reach a final agreement at a February summit — comments from several European politicians sent strong signals there would still be a long, difficult night of talks on Cameron’s reform demands.

While more than one EU leader said Cameron’s proposal to limit migrants was “not acceptable,” Cameron said he would be “battling hard for Britain right through the night” of negotiations.

During his remarks over a dinner discussion, Cameron asked leaders, “Are we going to find the flexibility to address the concerns of the U.K. and work together to fix this?”

A source close to the talks told POLITICO that although the negotiations on U.K. reforms would be at a political level without producing legal texts, Cameron would frame any progress as a victory and a sign of “momentum” on the issue. He has promised the British people a referendum on the U.K.’s membership of the EU by 2017.

“Don’t be surprised if Cameron leaves tonight acting like he’s a winner,” the source said.

But other leaders entered the gathering saying that while they wanted to keep Britain in the Union, they would not give up ground on issues such as the free movement of citizens within the bloc, seen as central to the European project.

“We want to hear him, we know his proposals, they will be specified,” French President François Hollande said. “If it is legitimate to listen to Cameron, it is not acceptable to re-examine the basis of European commitments.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said compromise was key to striking a deal.

“We from the German side would like to keep Great Britain as an EU member, but at the same time we don’t want to restrict the EU’s basic principles, non-discrimination and freedom of movement,” she said. “I believe solutions should be possible if all sides reach out to each other.”

European Parliament President Martin Schulz warned against bending too far for Cameron, and said the British prime minister’s demand for a four-year waiting period for migrants to receive benefits “won’t be possible.”

“David Cameron must come in our direction,” Schulz said. “It was not us who invented this referendum but David Cameron who said he wants to talk about it.”

Britain copes with great skepticism on EU issues, which prompting the referendum question

Cameron has insisted that he will not back down on his request to limit migration into the U.K from elsewhere in the EU, but said in a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk and other leaders last month that he’s open to “alternative solutions.”

An EU diplomat said that since Cameron made it clear to Hollande, Merkel, Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at a summit last month on migration from Turkey that he will not back down on his request for a four-year benefit ban, there’s been a scramble in Brussels and the EU capitals to come up with other solutions.

One that has been suggested is an emergency brake, or a political mechanism that allows either the European Council, the Commission or the Parliament to decide if migration is causing such a strain on the economy that it can be halted, according to an EU diplomat familiar with the talks.

The source said that Cameron told Juncker at the COP21 summit in Paris two weeks ago, “Look, the sherpas have done enough. I want to look the leaders in the eye and say this is not legal, this is political. Can I get this?” The comments, the source said, suggest that the British prime minister believes he hasn’t heard a clear “no” on his proposals.

Tusk said after rounds of talks with other member countries there was “good will” towards Britain, “but it doesn’t change the fact that some parts of the British proposal seem unacceptable.”

Free movement is core to the European Union and we cannot accept discrimination against European citizens — Dalia Grybauskaitė

“However, if Prime Minister Cameron persuades leaders tonight that we can work together to find solutions regarding all four baskets [of reform proposals] then we will have a real chance to strike a deal in February,” Tusk said.

Other EU leaders drew their hard lines at the summit entrance.

“Free movement is core to the European Union and we cannot accept discrimination against European citizens,” said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė.

Leaders of the Visegrád Group — the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia — whose citizens make up a large chunk of the EU migrants who have settled in Britain — warned that they will not back down on protecting freedom of movement.

“The Visegrád Group countries consider freedom of movement one of the fundamental values of the European Union, proposals regarding this area remain the most sensitive issue for us,” they said in a statement ahead of the summit. “In this respect, we will not support any solutions which would be discriminatory or limit free movement.”

Juncker cautioned that any deal EU leaders eventually strike with Britain has to be fair to other member countries, who are intent on protecting freedom of movement.

Florian Eder, Hans Joachim von der Burchard and Maïa de La Baume contributed to this article.

This article was updated to include additional reporting.


Tara Palmeri  

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