Merkel Says Cameron Not Jeopardizing EU's Freedom of Movement

Merkel and Cameron
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron greets German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the start of the NATO summit at the Celtic Manor resort, near Newport, in Wales September 4, 2014. Andrew Winning/Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday she was pleased British Prime Minister David Cameron had upheld the freedom of movement for EU workers in plans unveiled last week on migrant rights.

Cameron laid out a blueprint for restricting EU migrants' access to welfare benefits on Friday, but stopped short of proposing quotas or demanding that Britain be allowed to halt inflows if it felt too many people were settling in the country.

Under the European Union's freedom of movement rules, EU citizens are entitled to work anywhere in the bloc. That has seen hundreds of thousands of EU nationals come to work in Britain, which has the group's fastest-growing economy.

Speaking at a news conference in Berlin, Merkel stressed that freedom of movement was an essential pillar for the European Union. "We are pleased that this was not put into question by the British prime minister," she said.

"The proposals that were presented now need to be discussed in detail," she added, saying that Germany and the European Commission would have a close look at Cameron's propositions.

British media has said the prime minister pulled back from trying to introduce a cap on EU workers after the intervention of Merkel, who had warned that such a measure would be illegal.

London denied that Merkel had made Cameron modify his plans.

With polls indicating that immigration is the top concern for British voters, Cameron is under pressure to get tough on the issue ahead of a May parliamentary election.

He says he wants employed EU migrants to wait four years before being allowed to access welfare benefits, and for unemployed EU migrants not to be eligible for any help.

Cameron has said his plans would need an EU treaty change -- a step other EU leaders have baulked at -- but it was not immediately clear why treaty change would be needed.