Last week, the British Prime Minister David Cameron claimed a diplomatic victory on the issue of curbing social benefits for foreign workers, which was the biggest challenge of the recent EU summit. Cameron might be right, since other countries already said they were interested.

Before the European Summit, Angela Merkel delivered a speech in front of the Bundestag, the German Parliament. For the German chancellor, the proposal to curb benefits was deemed “justified and understandable because the jurisdiction for each respective social system lies not in Brussels, but in each individual member state.”

While sticking to the core principles of the European Union, Merkel paid tribute to the agreement reached in Brussels last week, especially on the issue of child benefits. (audio in German)

“The new rules on child benefits will be valid for United Kingdom and all the other member states,” Merkel said.

“Therefore Germany can make use of them. We will think about it in the government, but I can very well imagine that we will implement this rule in Germany.”

The German member of the European Parliament (MEP), David McAllister from the centre-right Euroea Peopels Party (EPP), shares this point of view.

“I believe child benefits are rather high in certain member states, and it’s got a lot to do with the higher standard and cost of living in this country,” McAllister said.

“But if your children are not in this country but in another country, I think this is a matter of fairness, why should then you become a British or a German level of child benefits if your children are not living in the United Kingdom or in Germany? So, I do understand that the chancellor, and not even the chancellor, but a number of other leading German politicians are supporters of this idea.”

Merkel doesn’t stand alone on this topic, because Denmark has also publically explained that it’s interested in this family allowance measure.

Pandora’s Box now open

According to Vivien Pertusot, head of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Bruxelles,  by giving in to David Cameron’s demands, it is now possible for other member states to follow the move of the United Kingdom.

“A lot of member states make the connection between migration, Schengen and social benefits,” Pertusot said.

“So other member states can actually be interested to have a deal that is relatively similar to what the United Kingdom has, that’s the first point. The second point is that, of course when you make a deal with one member state, some other member states may be interested to have something similar.”

Fierce battle with Visegrad group

During the last EU Summit on February 20, Cameron managed to obtain a “safeguard mechanism” to limit, over the period of seven years, some social aids for new migrants coming from the EU.

The British prime minister also obtained the indexation of family allowances for parents whose children stay in their home country. This will affect all the workers as of January 1, 2020. The 28 EU member states will be able to use this indexation.

A number of concerns were raised by Eastern European countries, notably by the Visegrad group (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), whose nationals have now in the hundreds of thousands settled in the UK and benefit from allowances once they get an employment contract.

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‘Up to 100,000 children who stay in Poland will be affected”

During the EU Council, Cameron tried his best to limit workers’ social benefits for up to 13 years. However, the pressure from the Eastern European countries forced him to cut this period to seven years.

The Visegrad group has also been fighting against further restrictions on familial allowances. “Up to 100,000 children who stay in Poland will be affected,” explained a Polish negotiator during the Council.

“I do understand the Polish, the Hungarian, the Czech, the Slovak concerns,” MEP McAllister said.

“But, in the end, we find a deal and this deal has been signed by all 28 heads of state, so I do hope that we have a solid ground for the prime minister to campaign in favour of his country remaining an active part of the European Union.”

Now that there is a deal, the Council is about to start preparatory work on the revision of the social security directive before the referendum on EU’s membership on June 23

  • Author: Pauline Armandet, Euranet Plus News Agency


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