Cameron wins Polish backing
The rest of the EU fears a British exit. Source: Flickr
David Cameron has won the backing of the most significant critic of his plan to curb EU migrant benefits, persuading Poland with pledges of military help, political promises and concessions on treaty change.
With domestic criticism increasing over his “new settlement” with the EU, Cameron embarked on a charm offensive in Warsaw, securing backing from Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland’s ruling party.
Kaczynski expressed “satisfaction” with Britain’s benefit reform package. Last week, according to diplomatic sources, Poland rejected the UK’s more ambitious demands to enshrine stricter curbs on migrant benefits in EU treaties.
“I am satisfied. We have obtained full protection of those Poles who are already in the UK,” said Kaczynski, who controls his party’s MPs and has decisive influence Poland’s prime minister and president.
“We have obtained really very, very much,” Kaczynski announced after meeting Cameron in Warsaw. “We are also satisfied with the willingness to co-operate in the areas associated with Polish security and the unprecedented encroachment that we are dealing with from certain elements in Brussels.”
Kaczynski, who is also a former prime minister and the twin brother of late president Lech Kaczynski, said: “Poland has … gained here really very much, full safety, above all, for all those who are in Britain right now, but also that those who have children in Poland will continue to receive benefits, they may be adjusted, but they will get them anyway.”
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said she backed Cameron’s proposals on improving competitiveness, removing red tape and granting proper significance to national parliaments but wanted to discuss the question of welfare benefits.
Polish support was one of the biggest hurdles to Cameron’s effort to secure EU reforms at a February 18-19 Brussels summit. With France, Germany and Poland signalling broad support, the odds are rising for a smooth deal allowing Cameron to call a June EU referendum in Britain.
However, the European Parliament, which reportedly uneasy with parts of the settlement and has a veto on any post-referendum legislation establishing a so-called emergency brake to restrict benefits to migrants.
Martin Schulz, president of the parliament, was dismissive of proposals to undercut EU workers’ rights to “equal treatment”.
“Is this the European Union we want to live in?” he said. The parliament would try to be supportive but only if reforms “do not cause discrimination and undermine European values”.
“As the text currently stands, the safeguard mechanism on benefits may be challenged in the courts,” said Charles Grant, of the Centre for European Reform. “Cameron needs to secure a promise that this mechanism will be included in the treaties when they are next changed. It is crucial that he finds a way of persuading the Poles to agree.”
Anglophile German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly said she wanted Britain, the second largest EU economy, to remain a member but has cautioned that Cameron must not overplay his hand.