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David Cameron launches attack on EU migration

By George Parker

David Cameron’s announcement of a crackdown on European Union immigration, vowing to deport vagrants, restrict the right of foreign nationals to benefits and calling for new rules to stop “vast migrations”, has drawn a sharp reaction from the EU.

Writing in the Financial Times, Mr Cameron insists Europe has to reform “to regain the trust of its people”, amid fears that unlimited migration is fuelling support for rightwing populist parties such as the UK Independence party.

Britain has for decades been the biggest cheerleader for EU expansion and free movement, but it now wants to pull up the drawbridge with new rules to stop workers from poor countries moving to richer member states.

With an eye fixed on future accessions in the Balkans and possibly Turkey, Mr Cameron demands “new arrangements that will slow full access to each others’ labour markets until we can be sure it will not cause vast migrations”.

He suggests imposing restrictions on movement until a country’s GDP per head reaches a certain share of the European average or allowing each country to set an annual cap on EU migrants.

Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme on Wednesday, Laszlo Andor, European commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, warned against “hysteria,” arguing Britain had benefited economically from immigration from eastern Europe.

The plans “risk presenting the UK as the nasty country in the European Union,” Mr Andor said.

Mr Cameron will put the ideas at the heart of his proposed renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU ahead of a planned referendum in 2017; he believes countries including Germany, Austria and the Netherlands could be supportive.

In a sign of hardening British attitudes towards migration, Mr Cameron’s FT article was signed off by Nick Clegg, leader of the pro-European Liberal Democrats, who believes the proposed reforms are “sensible and reasonable”.

Mr Cameron’s initiative is intended to allay rising concern in Britain about the lifting of work restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants on January 1 across the EU.

He says “things have gone wrong” under a system where 1m eastern Europeans settled in Britain after the last major round of EU enlargement in 2004 and blames the last Labour government for failing to address the issue.

Amid media reports of intimidatory behaviour by Roma migrants in some British cities, Mr Cameron says Britain will deport European workers found begging or sleeping rough, barring them from re-entering the country for 12 months.

Measures will be introduced to restrict access to Britain’s welfare state, including a three-month qualification period for benefits, which would then only be payable for six months.

European migrants only working in part-time jobs and falling below a certain income threshold would lose access to some benefits and newly arrived EU jobseekers would not be able to claim housing benefit.

Downing Street claims that similar restrictions are already in place in some other European countries, including the Netherlands, and insists they are all consistent with EU law.

But Mr Cameron’s aides expect “some grumbling” from the European Commission, which claims the UK has provided no evidence of “benefit tourism” by migrant workers and insists that arrivals make a net contribution to the British exchequer.

The commission will also scrutinise the proposals to ensure they are not discriminatory, but there is an acceptance in Brussels that public concern about European migration is mounting across the 28-member bloc.

Next May’s European elections are expected to see a big rise in support for rightwing parties, including Ukip, France’s National Front and other populist movements in countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and Finland.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, told the BBC on Wednesday that Mr Cameron’s proposals would do nothing to prevent large numbers of new migrants from Bulgaria and Romania.

“Under his proposal somebody can come here on January 1 from Romania and within 12 weeks be entitled to unemployment benefit. I think that’s outrageous,’’ he told the Today programme.

“I wouldn’t call that tough. I would say that we are still being far too generous even if he does have the guts to put this in place.”

Fonte: Financial Times - 27.11.2013


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