European Council on February 19, 2016 / tvnewsroom.consilium.europa.eu/

Some EU countries are willing to take their own advantages from the UK deal, while others are skeptical about the consequences. All the while Hungary has announced its intention to hold another referendum – on EU migration policies.

The recently concluded deal with the UK is resonating in the debates on the EU’s future.

At the EU summit, where the EU leaders met to hammer out a deal, at the end all 28 agreed to allow Britain – and every other EU member state – to curb social welfare for in-working EU citizens.

Poland was particularly reluctant, as thousands of Poles are living and working in the UK. (audio in Polish)

“We wanted to secure the rights of Polish citizens working in the UK against a situation where, if that country left the EU, these workers would lose any benefits they enjoy now,” the Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said.

But the political opposition in Poland reacted more critically on the outcome of the EU summit. (audio in Polish)

“This is not a success. It’s a failure,” the leader of the largest opposition party in Poland, the Civic Platform, Grzegorz Schetyna, argued.

“If this is an enormous British success, it was at the expense of Poles living in Britain and those who will go and legally work there and [at the expense of] benefits for their children.”

The right for all EU member states to index child allowances paid to children living abroad has also been heavily criticized in Poland.

But the German chancellor Angela Merkel announced that her country could eventually make use of this measure, which again would hit thousands of Polish families.

European Council on February 19, 2016 / tvnewsroom.consilium.europa.eu/

Merkel paid tribute to the agreement reached in Brussels last week

EU giving in on populists?

Other countries could follow. Especially EU member states which are currently paying out a lot of child benefits abroad – countries such as Luxembourg.

Nevertheless, in a first reaction, the Luxembourgish Minister for Employment and Social affairs Nicolas Schmit kept his distance to the deal.

Schmit said that given the huge differences of wages paid in European countries, the EU should rather act on social cohesion than giving in on arguments brought up by populist parties like the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). (audio in Luxembourgish)

“This deal gives me the impression that this is demagogy. Because it implies that people move to another country mainly because of higher social benefits. This is largely wrong”, Schmit said.

“So this deal seems to agree with what the UKIP and similar political parties claim. And that is a general problem – again and again we act in a way as if the arguments of the populists were correct. And then we wonder why the populists gain in support.”

Europe à la carte

The new resettlement with the UK will also allow other EU members to decide on whether they intend or not to further integrate into the EU.

The former Belgian European Commissioner and current member of the European Parliament (MEP), the Liberal Louis Michel, said that the UK is taking the EU hostage. (audio in French)

“I would like to remind that when the UK joined the EU, it was the sick member of Europe. Its membership to the EU, with all the benefits generated for the country, helped the UK to get out of its economic and social problems,” Michel said.

“Unquestionably, they [the British] are both ungrateful and cynical. When I hear Cameron taking hostage the core idea of the EU, one can only be shocked.”

Greece is trading with refugees

On the other hand, the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is said to have traded with migration during the discussions with the UK by threatening to block the deal.

At the end, Tsipras consented to say Yes to the agreement and wait until the EU-Turkey summit took place on March 7. (audio in Greek)

“Based on the clear commitment that we will cooperate on the existing situation until we meet again to examine the agreement with Turkey, Greece gave its consent to conclusions that concern also Great Britain, even though we have reservations regarding this development and the possibility of divergences for some from the European acquis,” Tsipras said.

But a few days later, Austria held a mini-summit on migration along the Western Balkans route without inviting Greece.

Greek government harshly criticized being excluded and threatened once more to block EU decisions, in case EU member states do not implement the decided redistribution of migrants within the EU.

Hungary to hold referendum on quota

But the idea of taking in refugees from Greece or other EU countries is still not appreciated in Eastern European countries.

On Wednesday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán proposed to hold a referendum on whether Hungary should be forced to take in refugees from other EU countries.

European Council on February 19, 2016 / tvnewsroom.consilium.europa.eu/

‘Quota would redraw ethnic, cultural and religious image of Hungary’

In the view of Orbán, “introducing resettlement quotas for migrants without asking the support of the people is an abuse of power.”

Orbán said that democracy is one of the most important values of Europe. (audio in Hungarian)

“We should not take decisions which can seriously change the lives of European people, even the life of future generations, without taking into consideration the opinion of European people, despite of their will,” Orbán said.

“And the quota would redraw the ethnic, cultural and religious image of Hungary and of Europe.”

  • This report was produced with the help of Euranet Plus members Polskie Radio (Poland), radio 100,7 (Luxembourg), RTBF (Belgium), Skaï Radio (Greece) and MTVA/MR (Hungary)
  • Author: Daniele Weber, Euranet Plus News Agency
  • Further image credits: (all middle) European Council on February 18-19, 2016 / tvnewsroom.consilium.europa.eu

 

Euranet Plus News Agency listening tip

Euranet Plus News Agency viewing tip

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.