Britain's Cameron in Germany, Hungary to pursue EU changes

AP News
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Posted: Jan 07, 2016 12:28 PM
Britain's Cameron in Germany, Hungary to pursue EU changes

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron sought to push forward his campaign for changes to the European Union during a visit to Germany and Hungary on Thursday, arguing that his proposals would benefit the bloc as well as the U.K.

Cameron was in the Alps for a meeting of the Christian Social Union, the Bavaria-only sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives. He also met Merkel at the gathering Wednesday evening.

Cameron has committed to holding a referendum on Britain's EU membership by the end of 2017. Before that, he is seeking a new deal for Britain, most controversially including welfare limits for other EU nationals intended to control migration.

He hopes to seal a deal at an EU summit next month and hold the referendum later this year.

"I'm confident with goodwill — and there is goodwill, I think, on all sides — we can bring these negotiations to a conclusion and then hold the referendum," Cameron said after meeting with the CSU's lawmakers.

He said that Britain, like EU heavyweight Germany, believes in the free movement of workers, "but we want to make sure that ... our welfare system is not an unnatural draw to Britain."

Cameron wrote in an op-ed for German daily Bild published earlier Thursday that the changes he wants "will benefit the EU too, and Germany can help deliver them."

Merkel called Wednesday for work toward "decisions that could lead, out of our own interest, to getting a sensible package so that Great Britain can remain part of the EU."

Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, which holds the EU presidency, said he was hopeful an agreement could be reached at the Feb. 18-19 summit in Brussels.

"I am relatively optimistic," Rutte said. "But, still, a lot of work needs to be done."

In Hungary, Cameron got support from Prime Minister Viktor Orban in three of the four reform themes he has been advocating for.

The government of Hungary, an EU member since 2004, has frequently been at odds with Brussels.

"In some, we would go even further," Orban said, thanking Cameron for his reform proposals such as the goal to cut EU bureaucracy and increase competitiveness. "There is a spiritual and strategic agreement between us."

Orban also said he agreed with combating abuses in the welfare system, but said figures showed that Hungarian workers in Britain paid more in taxes than what they got back in benefits.

"We will find the solutions ... that are good for Hungarian workers and also serve the objectives of the British government," Orban said.

Up to 200,000 Hungarians are believed to be living in Britain.

Cameron said that his proposal to limit welfare payments to workers from other EU countries during the first four years of their stay in Britain "won't come off the table unless something equally important is put in its place."

"We are open to listening to ideas," Cameron said.

Orban said the members of the so-called Visegrad Group — Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia — wanted to reach a joint agreement with Britain on that topic.

Orban also emphasized that Hungarian workers in Britain should not be seen as migrants.

"We are not migrants in the United Kingdom but citizens of the European Union who can freely choose work everywhere within the EU," Orban said, adding that Hungarians wanted to work in Britain, not be freeloaders.

Orban's government is adamantly against migration to Hungary from outside the EU and last year launched a billboard campaign with messages like "If you come to Hungary, you cannot take Hungarians' jobs."

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Pablo Gorondi reported from Budapest, Hungary. Raf Casert in Amsterdam contributed to this report.