Paul Taylor, Yahoo! News, December 18, 2013
European officials are confident they have averted a damaging clash among EU leaders over migration at a summit this week, but public fears of an influx into western and southern Europe will loom large over European elections next year.
By agreeing tougher rules on the temporary posting of workers from poorer countries in central and eastern Europe to wealthier western areas, EU labour ministers last week defused an explosive debate fuelling anti-European populist parties.
Britain, which opposed the tighter regulations as a burden on business, plans to unilaterally limit access to welfare for nationals of poor EU states Romania and Bulgaria when curbs on their freedom of movement end on January 1.
But Prime Minister David Cameron, whose coalition government is divided over labour migration, will not formally raise that issue or more radical ideas at the summit on Thursday and Friday, a senior British official said.
A government report leaked to the media suggested Cameron’s Conservatives aim to cap the number of EU migrants, bar them from receiving welfare benefits for the first five years and stop even highly skilled Europeans moving to Britain without a firm job offer. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrat junior coalition party, said such policies were “illegal and undeliverable”.
Home Secretary (interior minister) Theresa May told lawmakers that such longer-term ideas would figure in a planned renegotiation of EU membership terms which Cameron has promised if he wins a general election in 2015, but were not for now.
The right-wing UK Independence Party, which advocates Britain’s withdrawal from the 28-nation bloc, has warned that the country faces hordes of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants.
British media have railed against alleged “benefit tourism” despite studies showing EU migrants contribute much more to the welfare state than they receive and are less likely to claim benefits than native Britons.
Top-selling tabloid The Sun urged Cameron on Wednesday to “draw a red line on immigration” at the EU summit, warning that the country would otherwise vote to leave the bloc in a referendum promised by Cameron before the end of 2017.
Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute in Brussels, said EU leaders needed a coherent approach to managed migration but member states were reluctant to take in even Syrian refugees in the greatest distress.
“European leaders need to go into the election campaign with a long-term policy on migration and not leave the issue to the populists,” she said. “Some of the people voting for these populist parties are doing so because they feel there is a reluctance to talk about the issue.”
France and Germany persuaded EU partners last week to make it harder for construction firms to use sub-contractors to bring in low-cost east European workers, paying lower social charges in their home countries and displacing local workers.
France’s far-right National Front and hard-left Left Front had both demanded a ban on such “social dumping”.
Under the revised rules, the main contractor will be jointly liable for ensuring that such sub-contracted workers are paid the host country minimum wage and observe its work time rules.