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09/12/2016

Poland ready to back Britain’s push for EU treaty change

UK & Europe

Poland ready to back Britain’s push for EU treaty change

Until recently, Konrad Szyma?ski was MEP with the conservative ECR group. [European Parliament]

Poland’s new Eurosceptic government is ready to support many of Britain’s demands for staying in the European Union, but will oppose any move to withhold benefits from the thousands of Poles living there, a senior Polish official said on Sunday (29 November).

Konrad Szymanski, Poland’s deputy foreign minister responsible for European affairs, was speaking following a migration summit in Brussels, as the European Council President Donald Tusk and British Prime Minister David Cameron discussed London’s conditions for staying in the 28-nation bloc.

“Poland has a major interest in preventing any British EU exit. We are ready to support British demands as regards changes to their treaty obligations and possibly also changes to the European Union’s treaty architecture,” Szymanski told reporters.

“We want Britain to stay in the EU… The EU’s strength comes first and foremost from its scale. It would make a bad precedent to create a smaller union. That would mean the weakening of Europe’s position.”

But Poland could not accept Cameron’s call to allow Britain to withhold benefits from workers from other EU states for up to four years as this would affect the hundreds of thousands of Poles living and working in Britain.

>> Read: Britain’s EU reform talks stumble on social benefits

“The only matter of absolute principle (for Poland) is differentiating between people within the EU based on their passport,” Szymanski said, adding that would violate the principle on non-discrimination.

British Prime Minister David Cameron wants immigrants from EU states to wait four years before receiving in-work benefits such as tax credits and support for children living abroad. But EU officials and diplomats see that as discriminating between EU citizens on national grounds, which they say jars with basic EU treaty law.

Poland, one of the former communist states in central-eastern Europe, has been one of the main beneficiaries of the freedom of movement since its accession in 2004.

Poland’s newly-installed Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said she expected Cameron to visit Poland soon. Her conservative government sympathises with the British criticism of the EU and shares London’s opposition to an ever-deeper integration.

Meanwhile, the British prime minister and the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, discussed the UK renegotiation in a bilateral meeting after the EU-Turkey summit, Cameron’s office said in a statement.

“While some areas are more difficult than others, discussions are ongoing with member states to find solutions and agree reforms in all four areas outlined in the PM’s letter to the European Council president,” the statement said.

>> Read: Cameron sketches out EU reform demands, stays quiet on timing

European sources said this week that it was difficult to see a deal being reached at the December EU summit at this stage.

Background

Britain’s governing Conservative Party won an absolute majority in the UK general election on 7 May 2015. With 12 more MPs than the other parties combined, the Conservatives no longer have to rely on a coalition partner.

Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union. The renegotiation will be followed by a referendum by the end of 2017, to decide whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the EU.

If he achieves the reforms, Cameron will campaign to stay in. Otherwise, the Conservatives might campaign to leave the EU. This decision could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and Great Britain's position on the international scene.

Some other European countries are ready to listen to Cameron's concerns on issues such as immigration, and may be prepared to make limited concessions to keep Britain in the bloc.

But EU leaders also have their red lines, and have ruled out changing fundamental EU principles, such as the free movement of workers, and a ban on discriminating between workers from different EU states.

>> Read our LinksDossier: The UK's EU referendum: On the path to Brexit?