Britain urges EU to change free migration rules

EU flags The British home secretary will raise the issue at a meeting of EU ministers

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Britain wants to change the rules governing the free movement of people across the EU, Home Secretary Theresa May will tell European ministers.

Mrs May will speak in Brussels, ahead of the lifting of movement controls on Bulgarians and Romanians.

She says free access to labour markets must not be allowed to lead to "mass migration".

However, some countries have already vowed to defend what they regard as a fundamental EU principle.

EU justice and home affairs ministers will meet in Brussels on Thursday.

'Mass migration'

Start Quote

Theresa May

It is right that the national governments of the EU reform the way free movement rules work”

End Quote Theresa May

Arriving for the talks, the EU's Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said "our EU rules are good and they are here to stay - member states need to apply them to tackle abuse.

"Don't blame the Commission or EU rules for national choices and national regulatory systems... If we start negotiating freedoms we will end up with having none," she told reporters.

Mrs May argues that problems caused by free movement must be addressed and the rules should be changed.

In a statement she questioned why national governments should not be be allowed to impose a cap on numbers if European immigration reached certain thresholds.

She said she planned to make clear at the Brussels meeting "that I believe we need to change the way free movement rules work".

She added: "First, for future accession treaties, we must be able to slow full access to each other's labour markets until we can be sure it will not lead to mass migration.

"Second, looking ahead, we must seize the opportunity presented by the prime minister's plan to reform the EU and address the problems caused by free movement.

"It is right that the national governments of the EU reform the way free movement rules work."

Mrs May is also expected to propose requiring new member states to reach a certain level of income or economic output per head before full access to free movement rights is allowed.

Welfare systems

The debate is taking place in advance of the lifting of transitional controls on Romanians and Bulgarians - from 1 January there will be no restrictions on them working anywhere in the EU.

BBC Europe correspondent Chris Morris, in Brussels, said there was sympathy for Britain's demand that abuse of welfare systems should not be permitted - because other countries shared the same concern.

But there was little support at a political level for a fundamental reassessment of the idea of free movement, our correspondent added.

One diplomat from an eastern European member state said no one would accept some countries being treated as second class EU citizens because a free market in goods and services also has to be a free market for labour.

Mr Cameron has suggested that citizens from other EU countries would not be able to claim out-of-work benefits for the first three months in the UK and would not be able to extend claims beyond six months if they had no genuine prospect of work.

Laszlo Andor, a European commissioner, angered Mr Cameron by commenting that the UK was at risk of becoming a "nasty" country if it curbed benefits and sought to limit freedom of movement by EU nationals.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 927.

    This is yet another area where people think we can have our cake and eat it: they want to restrict EU immigration here but expect Brits to have free movement where they like. They want full access to the EU single market but want to be freed of "EU bureaucracy and regulation". I'm sorry, you can't have one without the other and anyone who says you can is known as a "liar".

  • rate this

    Comment number 910.

    I detect double standards here. If you believe in the free flow of goods and capital across the EU then you should also believe in the free flow of labour across the EU. If you don't believe in the latter then you will have a hard time justifying the former.

  • rate this

    Comment number 856.

    I don't think there are many people in the UK who favour a complete ban on immigration, most people recognise that controlled immigration is beneficial to society and the economy. I would like to see an "Australian" style points system introduced for all (including EU) immigrants to the UK, I would also like to see migrants from the Commonwealth given priority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 524.

    The only way for the EU to work is for serious change to be made now. You can't pick and choose which aspects to follow and which to ignore. The EU is not the US with a universal set of laws. It is a collection of nations with histories centuries old and cultural differences. Don't try to be a single state, but as a Union of cooperation and support. That is how the EU will succeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    Idea : Incomers get no benefits & no entitlement to public housing/NHS. You don't pay in, you don't get anything out. No job after 6 months? Made to leave. My husband (56, redundant 20 months, no benefits) would love a job but none for him so why should they stand a chance? My taxes currently pay foreigners' benefits; my husband can't get any because I have a job. It's immoral.


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