UK to push Berlin on EU ‘welfare shopping’

Britain yesterday said it plans to use a visit by German chancellor Angela Merkel this week to try to persuade Berlin to support measures to discourage people from moving within the EU to tap welfare benefits.

If re-elected next year, Conservative prime minister David Cameron has promised to try to reform the EU before giving Britons an in/out membership referendum by the end of 2017 amid public scepticism about the bloc.

Trailing in the polls, Cameron has said he wants to eventually restrict migrants from poorer EU states relocating to richer ones like Britain to take advantage of its comparatively more generous welfare system, a practice British politicians have dubbed “welfare shopping”.

Cameron has suggested possibly capping the annual number of EU migrants allowed to enter Britain each year or withholding full freedom of movement rights until a new EU member state achieves a certain GDP per head.

William Hague, the British foreign secretary, yesterday said the government hoped to use Merkel’s visit on Thursday to discuss enacting such reforms to the EU.

“I’m sure these subjects will come up. Germany also has strict benefit rules. Germany doesn’t want its benefit system to be abused. I think again with Germany we have a lot of common ground on that,” Hague told the BBC.

“Germany of course is our most important partner on seeking reform in the European Union because it’s Germany that has such a strong position in the euro zone.”

Cameron is under pressure from the anti-EU Ukip ahead of European elections in May and a national election in 2015, as well as from eurosceptics in his party.

On a recent visit to London, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, said he was not against discussing changes to EU treaties, but warned Britain against trying to backtrack on European integration.


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