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UK is reaching 'point of no return'

November 2, 2014

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has remained firm on her country's positioning towards EU migration laws. She has warned British Prime Minister David Cameron over the UK's recent recalcitrance.

Angela Merkel 2014 ernste Mimik
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told British Prime Minister David Cameron he is approaching a "point of no return" with his proposed immigration policies, according to a report published on Sunday by the German weekly, Spiegel Online,

A source told the weekly that Merkel warned Cameron on the sidelines of an EU summit last month that if he continued to push these limitations, which are not in accordance with EU law, "that would be it."

Cameron has said he wants to change rules on immigration and residency for workers from elsewhere in the EU in order to reduce the influx of migrants to Britain.

Merkel has consistently defended EU rules on immigration within the bloc, telling the Sunday Times at the end of October that Germany would not "mess with the freedom of movement in the EU."

She admitted that immigration and social benefits were "controversial questions that we [Germany] are also discussing," but warned that a solution for these problems should not principally endanger freedom of movement for EU citizens.

According to EU law, citizens from most EU countries have freedom of movement, residency and employment in each of the member countries.

Conservative Cameron under pressure

Cameron's Conservative Party sees itself under pressure from the anti-European and anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP), which has recently won in one constituency, Clacton, in parliamentary elections, gaining its first MP, Douglas Carswell.

Up until last month, the party had had relative success in the EU Parliament as well - until the euroskeptic bloc, led by UKIP, was dissolved in the European Parliament in elections in mid October, when the seventh, Latvian, member pulled out of it. Half of the euroskeptic contingent had been from UKIP, led by Nigel Farage.

Shortly after the election, outgoing European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso warned Cameron about Britain's anti-Europe leanings and said it would be "an historic mistake" if the UK were to leave the EU.

Referring to UK plans to limit immigration, he also said, "The principle of freedom of movement is essential, we have to keep it."

Emotional outburst

Cameron also sees himself at odds with the EU over a payment of 2.1 billion euros ($2.67 billion) which the UK is expected to pay by the first business day in December.

On October 24, Cameron had an emotional outburst when he interrupted a European leaders' summit meeting in Brussels to announce he would refuse to pay the contribution on the required date and demanded an emergency meeting of finance ministers to investigate how the amount was arrived at. A few days later, he reiterated his consternation in London, saying, "We're not paying two billion euros on the first of December and we're not paying … a sum anything like that."

The European Union Budget Commissioner Jacek Dominik expressed some bewilderment at the sudden outburst, saying: "It came to us a little bit as a surprise that … a typical process, an unusual process, repeated for so many years, creates suddenly such a problem."

He noted that the budget top-up data had been transmitted to member states, including to the UK Treasury, on October 17, and "up to this moment, there was no single signal from the UK administration that they have a problem with this figure."

The UK's required supplemental contribution was calculated according to standard, well-established EU budget adjustment regulations. Common rules and macroeconomic data determine how much money each member country is expected to put into the EU's kitty; countries that have been doing a little better - such as the UK - are expected to put in a little more.

Promises, promises

Cameron has promised voters in the UK to renegotiate Britain's EU membership if re-elected in May next year, in which event he would also offer voters an in-out referendum in 2017.

In September, he told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that he would not be heartbroken if the UK were to relinquish its EU membership. "I feel about a thousand times more strongly about our United Kingdom than I do about the European Union," he said, with reference to the then upcoming Scottish referendum on whether to remain in the UK.

"The United Kingdom was an issue of heartbreak. This is a matter of important pragmatism: what is best for our United Kingdom? How do we get the best deal for Britain? That is what I feel strongly about," he continued, according to a Reuters news agency report. He also said, according to the same report at the end of September, that the "best answer for Britain is a reformed position in the EU."

sb/tj (AFP, Reuters)