David Cameron has made a fresh appeal for German support over the changes he is seeking to the European Union, saying the two countries are “key allies” and had to co-operate to make the union “more prosperous”.
The Prime Minister sought to push forward his campaign for changes to the EU during his visit to Germany and Hungary yesterday, arguing his proposals would benefit the bloc as well as the UK.
Mr Cameron is committed to a referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017. He hopes to seal a deal at an EU summit next month and hold the referendum later this year.
He said that Britain, like Germany, believes in the free movement of workers, and in an opinion piece for the German daily newspaper Bild published yesterday he said the changes he wants “will benefit the EU too, and Germany can help deliver them”.
Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken of working towards “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 18-19 February summit in Brussels.
“I am relatively optimistic,” Mr Rutte said. “But, still, a lot of work needs to be done.” Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has offered support to Mr Cameron on three of the four reform themes he has been advocating.
However, he has told Mr Cameron that Hungarians working in the UK were not “migrants” or “parasites” but hard-working European citizens who paid more into the UK’s system in tax than they got out in benefits and who should not be “discriminated” against.
He said Mr Cameron’s demand for a four-year benefit ban on new arrivals was therefore a “difficult” issue for Hungary to support. However, he vowed to work with other East European countries to come up with a solution acceptable to the UK.
Up to 200,000 Hungarians are believed to be living in the UK.
Mr Cameron said his proposal to limit welfare payments “won’t come off the table unless something equally important is put in its place” saying it was needed to help curb high levels of immigration.
“We are open to listening to ideas,” he said.