German Chancellor Angela Merkel has thrown David Cameron a bone in his bid for EU reform by saying treaty change was not “totally impossible”.
In a press conference following the pair’s meeting which rounded off the first part of the Prime Minister’s tour of EU leaders, Mrs Merkel said European leaders must look carefully at Mr Cameron’s demands before ruling anything out, the Telegraph reports.
It was a positive note to what has been a tricky two day tour: the first leg of his campaign which will take him all around the EU to meet leaders individually before the EU summit in June.
The words came just hours after Poland rejected Mr Cameron’s plans for benefit reform as a “definite no”.
The Prime Minister’s suggestions are starting to reveal differences of opinion in EU countries with net contributor nations such as Germany looking to stop abuse of welfare systems including automatic rights to housing or child benefit which can be claimed in wealthier countries even if the child is not present.
In November last year Germany won a significant case when the European Court of Justice ruled that it could deny welfare payments to migrants who had no money but refused to work.
Mrs Merkel wants to continue down that road to stop benefits tourism and said she is closely watching rules from the ECJ.
Speaking about Mr Cameron’s proposals, she said, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” and that she would “go into these discussions constructively.”
“I want to find a solution,” she added.
“Of course, when you are convinced of an idea you cannot say that treaty change is a total impossibility” and pointed out that the EU is “not a social union.”
“We have strike a fair balance with social benefits,” she said.
Mr Cameron said he was “very heartened” by her remarks and said that EU leaders need to be open minded about change, understanding the need for ““the flexibility of a network, not the rigidity of a bloc.”
His counterparts must not be “frightened” of a looser arrangement, he warned.
The meetings with Ewa Kopacz and Angela Merkel show the crack which have appeared between richer and poorer countries in the bloc, with Western Europe wanting to clamp down on benefits tourism which they feel undermines the benefits of a flexible cross border labour market.
The Polish Prime Minister told Mr Cameron over a breakfast of strawberries and smoked trout that she is “strongly opposed” to measures which may lead to discrimination against Poles and other Eastern Europeans who migrate to richer countries for work. She warned Mr Cameron that she would be fighting his benefits plans which have caused outrage among some politicians who view the EU laws as enshrining their citizens “rights” to send earnings and welfare payments back home.
“She defended one of the fundamental rights on which the EU common market is based,” her office said, although the law enshrined is one of freedom of Labour, rather than freedom to claim welfare payments.
Mr Cameron also had a positive meeting with the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, as he hailed The Netherlands as an “old friend” and a “like-minded ally”.