DAVID Cameron’s calls for tighter rules on European migration yesterday sparked a row over free movement within the EU.
The Prime Minister called for a package of measures to ease the impact of migration on the UK economy when restrictions on Romania and Bulgaria are lifted in January 2014. The changes include controls on when migrants can start to claim housing benefit, jobseekers allowance and out-of-work benefits. Migrants found sleeping rough or begging will be deported, and employers who fail to pay the minimum wage will be fined £20,000 – four times the current penalty.
Responding to the plans, László Andor, the EU employment commissioner, called the proposals “an unfortunate overreaction” and warned that the UK could end up looking like the “nasty country in the EU.” Andor added that the rules were agreed by all member states, including the UK, drawing a clear line in the sand on changing the terms of EU membership.
The proposals have also been criticised by Labour as politicking ahead of the election in 2015. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper accused Cameron of “flailing around” and rushing out measures before the restrictions are lifted early next year.
Downing Street confirmed that only some of the proposals would be in force by January, with others following later in 2014. The news prompted warnings that some migrants may arrive sooner than expected to get around the restrictions.
But think tank Civitas poured cold water on the claims, writing in a blogpost that the majority of Cameron’s proposals are “wrong or useless” and most already exist.
While the Prime Minister came in for criticism from a number of corners, France and Germany joined calls to toughen up employment policy across the EU.
President Francois Hollande’s government said it would crack down on temporary employment of workers from eastern Europe, which it called “a threat to the economic and social fabric of France, which cannot be accepted”.