EU Likely to Compromise With U.K. on Benefits, Roivas Says

  • PM says Baltic nation's priority is free movement of labor
  • Estonia isn't worried about U.K. cuts to migrant benefits

European Union members are willing to accept U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s demands for reforms as long as free movement of people is guaranteed, Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas said.

Cameron is aiming to reach an agreement with leaders of the 27 other EU nations at a summit in Brussels this month before U.K. citizens vote on whether to stay in the bloc at a referendum that could take place as early as June. Giving the U.K. a so-called emergency brake granting it some power to limit welfare benefits to migrants is the key issue in the talks.

It’s possible to find a “reasonable compromise” regarding the timing, conditions and size of benefits, Roivas said Tuesday in an interview at his office in Tallinn, the Estonian capital. He spoke just before EU President Donald Tusk published a draft agreement with the U.K.

“The approach that’s now on the table, stating that free movement of people shouldn’t be restricted and not aiming to set any EU quotas on that, is the logical direction,” Roivas said. “There’s readiness in Europe to discuss it. Last time EU leaders discussed it, there didn’t seem to be any insurmountable obstacles” to a deal.

Migrant Benefits

Roivas said Estonia’s position on the issue of welfare benefits to migrants mirrors that of Nordic countries, rather than nations in the former Soviet bloc, as “Estonians haven’t gone to the U.K. because social benefits might be more generous.”

Neighboring Sweden and Finland are struggling to contain an influx of refugees from countries such as Syria, while Estonia’s much less generous welfare system has made it relatively unattractive for migrants.

While the country of 1.3 million people has committed to accept 550 refugees from Italy and Greece within two years, it’s faced difficulties in selecting migrants, with most having moved on to western European countries, Roivas said. Estonia would be willing to accept refugees from Sweden within its present commitments if the European Commission adds the Nordic country to the list of those in need of help for resettlement, he said.