Plans by British authorities to require EU citizens to carry a "European residence document" would violate EU law, Commission sources told EurActiv.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who has been an outspoken critic of the EU, entered an uneasy government coalition with the pro-European Liberal Democrat party in 2010.
But as the eurozone eyes greater fiscal, banking and possibly even political integration to solve its sovereign debt crisis, Cameron has come under growing pressure from the rebellious right wing of his party to give Britons a vote on whether they wish to remain inside the EU, or downgrade their relationship with Brussels.
Senior politicians from the Labour party have sought to gain advantage from Cameron's difficult position, calling for Britain to clarify its relations with the EU by holding a referendum.
William Hague, British foreign secretary, promised that his government would conduct a full "audit" of the impact of EU law on Britain by 2014.
British new media reported that new documents would be introduced to make it harder for Bulgarians and Romanians, who will be free to settle in the UK after January 2014, to obtain social benefits.
On Monday (25 February), the Home Office published a new price list for the documents it issues, including “European Residence Documents”. Its price from 6 April will be £55.
The daily Guardian reported that UK Immigration Minister Mark Harper said earlier this month a mandatory ID card scheme was under consideration for Romanians, Bulgarians and other European nationals.
"One of the things we are looking at, other European countries do it, is insist that people register so we go through a proper process where we test that they are really here for that purpose and not coming here just to claim benefits or for another reason," Harper is quoted as saying.
The European Commission said it had not received any details about such plans.
Jonathan Todd, spokesperson to Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Commissioner Lázsló Andor, said European law does allow member states to make it mandatory for EU citizens to have a registration document after having stayed three months in another EU country.
Same price for all
However, such registration certificates should not cost more that the fee for similar documents for the nationals of the respective country, he said. Todd also explained that in view of the UK debate for limiting access to social benefits, the new document wouldn’t make any difference.
The requirement to register is separate from the right to receive social benefits, Todd said.
Britain does not require its citizens to have national identity cards so the European residence document would not be similar to any national document. Asked to comment, several UK sources told EurActiv that the British measure was discriminatory under EU law.
Antwerp passes discriminatory fee
On Monday, the city council of Antwerp, Belgium, passed a new tax of €250 for foreigners wishing to be registered with the communal administration. It said the fee, up from €17, was needed to cover administrative expenses.
The Antwerp city council is dominated by the nationalist N-VA party of Mayor Bart De Wever.
Belgian Interior Minister Joëlle Milquet said she was opposed to the new fee, adding that it would only fuel xenophobia.
EurActiv contacted the European Commission on this issue as well, but Commission officials said there were not familiar with the city council's action.