Poland and Hungary back ‘most’ of Britain’s EU reform plans
Concerns expressed about proposal to curb benefits for new migrants from EU states
Poland’s prime minister Beata Szydlo and her Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban pose for photographers after their press conference in Budapest on Monday. Photograph: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images
The leaders of Hungary and Poland have given broad backing to a British plan for EU reform, but want more negotiation on benefit issues and will seek a common final position on London’s proposals with other states in central Europe.
After talks in Budapest, Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban and his Polish counterpart Beata Szydlo also reiterated calls for the EU to take urgent steps to tackle the refugee crisis and restrict the arrival of migrants through the Balkans.
“We discussed the changes proposed by Britain and state that we agree with most of their proposals,” Mr Orban said, before adding that Hungary and Poland shared concerns about London’s bid to curb benefits for new migrants from EU states.
“It would be wrong to make distinctions that discriminate against people arriving there from central Europe … as compared to British people living there,” Mr Orban said.
Ms Szydlo said she and her host “agreed that, when it comes to…the so-called Brexit, the issue of benefits and social assistance is difficult to accept”.
“We also want to clearly stress that if there’s talk about a possible attempt to change, to expand proposals that have been put forward regarding the British issue, we will not agree to it.”
Ms Szydlo called for “negotiation and clarification” on the benefits questions, but added: “We will certainly seek a compromise…I can’t imagine Britain leaving the European Union.”
During talks in Warsaw last Friday, British prime minister David Cameron reassured Polish officials that he proposed to limit welfare payments only to new immigrants, not those – including an estimated 600,000 Poles – who are already living in Britain.
Ms Szydlo and Mr Orban said they would seek to forge a common central European position on Britain’s plan when they meet counterparts from the Czech Republic and Slovakia on February 15th, three days before a full EU summit.
The regional leaders are also expected to use that summit to push for urgent action on the refugee crisis, with no sign yet of any progress from a €3 billion deal late last year with Turkey to dramatically restrict the number of arrivals.
Mr Orban again lambasted western European leaders over the crisis, which prompted Hungary to erect fences along its southern borders with Croatia and Serbia last year, when more than one million people travelled through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans into the heart of the EU.
He accused them of creating “very serious terror risks” by allowing huge numbers of people to enter the EU “without control, filtering or security screening.”
Central European states, along with neighbouring Austria, are demanding that the EU put pressure on Greece to stop migrants and refugees moving north almost unchecked.
Mr Orban called for a “European defence line” to be constructed on Greece’s northern border, with aid groups warning that spring is set to bring far greater numbers of asylum seekers to the continent than the same time last year; more than 40,000 refugee and migrants have already landed in Greece in 2016.