Consensus will not be reached on Britain’s renegotiated terms for EU membership unless the hundreds of thousands of Poles already living in the UK are allowed to retain their access to in-work benefits and child benefit, the foreign policy advisor to the Polish president has said.
As David Cameron began detailed negotiations in Brussels to clinch a deal with other EU leaders, Krzysztof Szczerski said Warsaw would block any move to hit the benefits of up to 600,000 Poles resident in Britain. “We cannot accept retrospective legislation,” he said. “Those that are in the system and part of the system cannot have their rights taken away.”
Poland has accepted the principle of a minimum four-year emergency brake on in work benefits, but their refusal to accept a cut in benefits that applies to Poles already working in the UK shows how tough negotiations have been and how a deal might have a limited impact on migration.
Szczerski said his government, led by the rightwing Law and Justice party, was prepared to accept that new Polish child benefit claimants working in the UK should not be able to claim benefits at UK rates for its children still in Poland, as long as issues of indexation were resolved.
The talks in Brussels may well focus on whether the so-called British emergency brake temporarily depriving EU migrants of access to in-work benefits is seen as an effective way of controlling migration in to the UK.
Szczerski said the mechanism would not have much impact on the flow of migrants to the UK. “The Polish people in this country are not benefit seekers. Nearly 93 % of Poles are either studying or working so they are contributing rather than benefiting from the system. We have to protect the rights of those already in the system,” he said.
He predicted the UK government’s plan to increase the minimum wage to as high as £9.40 by 2020 may attract more migrants from southern Europe.
During his talks with EU member states, Cameron has probably spent more time trying to assuage the government in Poland than any other country.
Szczerski insisted Poland was eager for the UK to remain inside the EU but wanted more Poles to return to their native country to work, saying the country was facing a severe demographic problem due to the numbers that have migrated. “It would be a crisis for the EU if the UK left, and the EU cannot withstand another crisis,” he said.
He also expressed fears that Europe’s handling of the migration crisis would have a large impact on the UK vote. “When the campaign starts and all the democratic decision-making starts, it is not only the brains, but also the hearts that are involved, and so are emotions. So how Europe manages the migration crisis and the eurozone crisis will influence the British referendum.”
He added: “The EU will not survive another year like the last on migration. We cannot continue with the current policies because they are not working.”
The new Polish government has flatly refused to accept a quota of 5,000 migrants set out by Brussels. “The idea of accepting migrants and then sending them around in compulsory quotes is just invalid,” Szczerski said. “Such quotas conflict with human rights, and it just does not work. We don’t want to be forced to build closed ghettos for compulsorily reallocated migrants in Poland.”
He argued that although the ultimate solution to the migration crisis lay in Syria, it was necessary for Turkey to do more. “We all know the Turkish state is in a position to control its borders. It is not failed state, it is a proper functioning state so we have to negotiate with Turkey for its responsibilities. It is not like Libya which is ungovernable.”
But the war in Syria is getting worse. The pressure on Turkey on both sides of its border may become unsustainable. Lebanon and Jordan are under great social pressure.
Szczerski was in London for talks with the UK foreign office minister David Liddington and has been eager to combat claims that the new Polish government is departing from European values.
This article was written by Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 18th February 2016 17.38 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010