U.K.-Poland Tensions Persist on Cameron's EU Welfare Demand

  • Cameron first leader to visit Warsaw under Szydlo government
  • Szydlo says it's in U.K. interests to remain EU member

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said he agreed to work with Poland on a solution to his demands for European Union reform, as Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said the two countries remained apart on the issue of curbs to benefits for EU migrants.

Poland wants to maintain the principle of free movement of people in the EU while continuing dialogue with Cameron on social benefits for migrants, Szydlo told reporters at a joint press briefing in Warsaw Thursday.

“The most important thing is that we agreed to more talks,” Szydlo said. “We are certain that Poland and the U.K. will reach a deal.”

Cameron, the first foreign leader to visit Warsaw since Szydlo’s Law & Justice government came to power in October, acknowledged the disagreement over aspects of his demands, but stressed that a solution could be found. Law & Justice is a sister party to Cameron’s Conservatives in the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

“Even on the most difficult issue of welfare, we’ve agreed to work together to find a solution,” Cameron said. “The challenge is the scale of the vast movement of people we’ve seen over the last decade,” he said. “We can find a way.”

Migration Dispute

Britain’s request that EU migrants must contribute for four years before they qualify for benefits has proved the most contentious of his proposals for EU reform, with some countries branding the proposal discriminatory. Cameron is preparing for a “substantive discussion” with fellow leaders at a summit in Brussels next week on Britain’s demands for reform before a stay-or-leave referendum by the end of 2017. EU President Donald Tusk said on Monday that there was “no consensus” among member states on the issue of welfare curbs.

Cameron suggested that progress had been made in the last 48 hours. “We don’t yet have agreement, it’s going to take time but I feel there is the goodwill to reach and agreement that will be of benefit to the British people,” he said.

Poland’s government is signaling accommodation toward Britain since it regards the U.K. as an ally in maintaining the strong role of sovereign states in the EU, against some western European countries that want to pursue closer cooperation. 

‘Equal and Free’

“The discussion about a union of equal and free nations is an important one for the future of the Europe,” Krzysztof Szczerski, a foreign-policy adviser to Poland’s president, told reporters in Warsaw on Thursday.

Cameron also stressed that security concerns after recent terror attacks in Paris were an added incentive for Britain to stay in the EU.

"This renegotiation, this question has become bigger and more important with the security crisis that we face in Europe," Cameron said. "So it’s all the more important that we work round the clock to deliver a successful renegotiation."

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