WARSAW/LONDON (Reuters) - Poland’s prime minister said on Tuesday he would ask his British counterpart David Cameron to explain remarks about Polish migrants benefiting unfairly from British welfare payments when the two men speak by telephone this week.
Cameron had said he wanted new EU rules to limit access for migrants to their host countries’ welfare payments, and pointed to Poles, among the biggest migrant communities in Britain, as an example of the potential for the rules to be abused.
Up for re-election next year, Cameron has promised to try to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU if he wins power again and to hold a referendum to decide whether his country remains in the bloc.
He is under particular pressure to address voter concerns about immigration. The issue flared up this month after restrictions expired on Romanians and Bulgarians working in Britain, and looks set to help the anti-EU UKIP party eat into the Conservative vote in this year’s European parliament elections.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, asked about Cameron’s comments, said it was not acceptable to single out any single nationality.
He said he had a telephone conversation with Cameron scheduled for Wednesday, and would raise the issue.
Tusk said Poland would veto any changes to EU rules aimed at reducing welfare payments for any particular nationality rather than applying equally to citizens of all EU member states.
“We will not agree to it if these are changes that would stigmatize any particular national minority,” Tusk said.
“Nobody has the right to single out Poles as a particular group that abuses or exploits something.”
Reacting to Tusk’s comments, Cameron’s spokesman said Britain would continue to push for changes to EU law, saying it was “perfectly fair” for Cameron to mention Poles as they had moved to Britain in larger numbers than nationals from other new EU member states when they joined the bloc in 2004.
Cameron had said he thought it was wrong for Britain to be paying welfare benefits for children to Polish migrant workers to help support their families living back in Poland.
His spokesman said he stood by those comments, and that “a very considerable number” of other EU countries shared Cameron’s concerns about the impact of migration on benefit systems.
Cameron has in the past cited support on the issue from Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Tusk said Britain actually benefits from the system, as Poland bears the costs of the children’s education and healthcare.
Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Writing by Christian Lowe; Additional reporting by Andrew Osborn in London; Editing by Kevin Liffey