U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron clashed with his Polish counterpart over curbing benefits for migrants as his attempts to rally support for European Union reform ran into resistance.
Cameron met Ewa Kopacz in Warsaw on Friday morning on the third leg of his tour of European capitals aimed at winning backing to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the 28-nation EU. While Cameron’s office said that Poland wants to work in a “positive spirit” with the U.K., Kopacz issued a rebuke to a core plank of his proposals.
During their discussion over breakfast, Kopacz “strongly opposed measures that may lead to discrimination against Poles and other EU citizens seeking legal employment in the U.K.,” according to a statement on the Polish premier’s website. “She defended one of the fundamental rights on which the EU common market is based.”
Cameron has pledged a referendum by the end of 2017 on whether Britain should remain a member of the EU. First, he needs to secure sufficient concessions to persuade euro-skeptic members of his Conservative Party, and the country, to back staying in. His push to curb benefits awarded to migrants from other parts of the EU has proved one of the most contentious.
Under Conservative plans, EU migrants will be barred from claiming in-work benefits such as tax credits and child benefit until they have been working in Britain for four years. Job-seekers will be barred from all benefits and will have to leave the U.K. if they are still without work after six months.
While Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne says there is a “real willingness” to negotiate with the U.K., French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius suggested Poland isn’t the only country resisting British demands for reform.
“It’s something very risky,” Fabius told France-Inter Radio on Thursday. “We would like the U.K. to stay in the EU. But as much as we say, yes, the union can be improved, we can’t agree to its dismantling.”
Fabius’s comments preceded a meeting between Cameron and French President Francois Hollande on Thursday. Earlier, Cameron met Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague. On Friday, in Poland, Cameron reiterated to Kopacz that he is committed to respecting the principle of free movement, according to his office. He later began talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. A joint press conference is scheduled for about 1:15 p.m. local time.
“The Brits are used to clubs,” Fabius said. “It’s like here they’ve joined a football club. You can’t say halfway through the match that it’s rugby.”