Newspaper article International New York Times

Britain Gets Warning Not to Test E.U. Principles ; Merkel Tells Cameron Freedom of Movement Is Not Up for Negotiation

Newspaper article International New York Times

Britain Gets Warning Not to Test E.U. Principles ; Merkel Tells Cameron Freedom of Movement Is Not Up for Negotiation

Article excerpt

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain has steadily toughened his stance on the European Union, but Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany says he should not go too far.

Under mounting pressure from anti-European populists and the right wing of his own party, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain has steadily toughened his stance against the terms of membership in the European Union, gambling that other countries want to keep Britain inside the bloc so much that they will grant him substantial concessions.

But now Mr. Cameron is getting a clear warning from his closest and most powerful ally on the Continent, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, not to miscalculate how far Europe is willing to go to accommodate him.

At issue is Mr. Cameron's consideration of proposals to clamp down on the right of Europeans to live and work in Britain, potentially putting him at odds with one of the European Union's most basic policies, the free movement of its citizens within its borders. Mr. Cameron, who faces a general election in the spring, has promised to set out his proposals by Christmas.

Should he go too far, Ms. Merkel might abandon Britain to a future outside the bloc, according to German media reports.

Ms. Merkel wants to prevent a British exit from the union, but limiting the ability of Europeans to move freely throughout its 28 nations would breach a fundamental principle, unidentified government sources told Der Spiegel magazine over the weekend. Ms. Merkel, it reported, feared Britain's Europe policy was near a "point of no return."

Asked on Monday whether Ms. Merkel had drawn "a red line" with Mr. Cameron over immigration quotas, her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, described freedom of movement as one of the cardinal principles of the European Union.

"We see this as a valuable achievement," he said. "For Germany, the freedom of movement is not negotiable."

In contrast, Helen Bower, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cameron, told reporters in London that the issue was "about realizing that free movement should not be an unqualified right and returning it to a more sensible basis."

Ms. Bower's comments reflected the growing pressure on Mr. Cameron to limit access to British social welfare benefits and jobs, especially as the European Union has expanded eastward.

"The mass migration you have seen with new countries joining, the impact on other populations in countries like here in the United Kingdom, the free movement in order to claim benefits, these are all ways this has developed and evolved, and we think they need to be addressed," Ms. Bower said. While Germany would probably accept changes on welfare entitlements, it is drawing a line over Europeans' right to live and work across the union.

The rift, coming little more than six months before he faces the voters, highlights how Mr. Cameron is being squeezed between the political forces on his right -- including the rise of the anti- European U.K. Independence Party, or UKIP -- and the unwillingness of Ms. Merkel and other European leaders to give up their commitment to an ever more integrated union.

"He's in a tricky corner," said Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a research institute. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.