Britain is proposing a tough stance on migrants and welfare as part of a deal that could seal the country’s membership in the European Union.
British prime minister David Cameron is touring Europe as part of his bid to renegotiate the country’s relations with the EU.
It comes ahead of plans for a referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU or leave.
Mr Cameron’s proposed social-services changes, targeted at EU migrants, are facing stiff opposition from many Eastern European countries, including Hungary.
Rachael Hocking reports.
It is a contentious pitch.
British prime minister David Cameron is proposing people coming to Britain from the European Union would need to live in the country for four years before qualifying for state benefits.
It comes as Mr Cameron faces increasing opposition from anti-EU forces within his Conservative Party pushing for a so-called “Brexit” — a British exit from the EU.
Speaking after a meeting with Hungary, he says the proposed welfare changes are needed to cope with the high levels of immigration.
“Britain supports the concept of free movement. Many British citizens go and live and work elsewhere in Europe. But we want to make sure that welfare systems, and particularly our welfare system, are not an unnatural draw to Britain, because we do feel the pressure of excessive migration that we’ve had in recent years.”
The issue is a significant one for many EU countries, with hundreds of thousands of Central and Eastern Europeans living and working in Britain.
Some EU members have described the proposed reforms as discriminatory.
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban says Hungary backs three of Mr Cameron’s four areas for reform.
But he says the issue of social benefits is more difficult and Hungarians should not be discriminated against.
(Translated) “We do not go to Britain to be parasites. We do not want to take away from people living there. We want to go there, and we want to work. It is important for these hard-working people who contribute to the British economy, and it is important that these hard-working people get respect and should not suffer discrimination.”
Last year, Mr Cameron made the controversial claim that 43 per cent of EU migrants claimed benefits in Britain within four years of arrival.
The UK Statistics Authority sharply criticised the claim.
Mr Cameron says he is open to other solutions, but says something needs to be in place to curb immigration.
Mr Orban says Hungary will set up a common position on welfare reform with other Eastern European countries, adding he sees a good chance of agreement with Britain.
Meanwhile, Mr Cameron says he remains optimistic a deal can be reached on all the reforms at an EU summit set for February.
His four stated aims for renegotiaton are economic governance, competitiveness, immigration and sovereignty.
“Making sure that we’re in Europe for cooperation and to work together but we’re not part of an ever-deepening political union. Making sure that Europe is adding to the competitiveness of countries like Britain and, indeed, Germany, rather than holding back our competitiveness. Making sure there are fair rules for both countries that are inside the eurozone and countries like Britain that won’t join the eurozone, that want the eurozone to be a success but want to make sure that, outside the eurozone, there are no disadvantages, that we’re not called upon to support the eurozone financially. These are important issues.”
Mr Cameron has also held new talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Ms Merkel says she wants to negotiate a deal that would keep Britain in the bloc.
(Translated) “Over the coming weeks, it is important that we make decisions in our own interests in order to get a reasonable package that will allow Britain to stay in the EU. But, ultimately, this is, of course, the decision of British citizens.”
Mr Cameron has committed to holding a referendum on Britain’s membership in the 28-nation bloc by the end of 2017.
A poll released this week suggests most Britons who have already made up their minds would vote to leave the European Union.