Woes not fault of migrants, EC chief tells UK

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BRITISH politicians need to “work on the quality of education and welfare” rather than blaming immigrants for the country’s woes, a senior Brussels official urged yesterday.

Viviane Reding renewed her criticism of the “distorted” debate about the UK’s future in the European Union, claiming it was distracting from vital reforms and damaging economies.

The European Commission vice-president suggested that Prime Minister David Cameron’s arguments for keeping Scotland within the United Kingdom applied equally to remaining within the EU.

And the focus should be on agreeing new rules with the eurozone countries –- which she hopes will form a “United States of Europe” – rather than “opt-outs, renegotiation and referenda”.

Mr Cameron has promised an in/out referendum on a new-look relationship between Britain and the EU by 2017 if the Conservatives win the 2015 general election.

Ms Reding – who has been a vocal critic of his efforts to rein in “free movement” rules in a bid to curb large-scale immigration to the UK – kept up her opposition in a speech at Cambridge University.

“You would think that a country as traditionally open to the world as the UK would embrace this fundamental freedom wholeheartedly. And for a long time it did,” she said.

“Now something has changed. Openness is no longer seen as opportunity, but as a threat. Across political parties there is talk of curbing immigration, of closing doors.

“The four freedoms enshrined in the EU Treaties come as a package. You either enjoy all of them or none. Those who benefit from the free flow of capital, goods and services must also accept that our citizens are free to move in the EU to travel, study and work.”

She continued: “Politicians also need to work on the quality of education and welfare, so that people in this country can find employment and enjoy reasonable social standards.

“Simply trying to project all problems on the supposed issue of too many foreigners moving into the country is certainly not the answer.

“It is not EU policies that are causing problems in this area. But somehow this misconception prevails, and there is a sense that all difficulties could be solved if the UK could get out of them, that it needs to free itself of supposedly ‘alien’, harmful rules and principles that are imposed on it.”

Eurosceptic arguments that the UK would be “leaner and meaner” outside of the EU ignored the fact that it would face huge problems negotiating favourable deals to access the single market, she said.

A Foreign Office source said: “Nothing’s more damaging to the EU than failing to accept that it needs to deal with problems like free movement abuse. The Prime Minister, however, is confronting those problems by seeking to make the EU work better for all and giving the British people a choice on the EU: in or out.”