Merkel defends principle of open borders

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GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted the European Union had made “mistakes” in handling cross-border movement of people, in a speech yesterday, as new immigration figures showed net migration into the UK grew by a third last year.

Chancellor Merkel defended the principle of the free movement of people in her address to MPs and Peers but agreed problems with the way it is implemented had to be tackled if it is to maintain popular support.

Immigration is expected to be one of the main areas where Britain would seek changes if Prime Minister David Cameron presses ahead with his promise to renegotiate the country’s membership of the EU.

Chancellor Merkel yesterday made clear she wanted Britain to remain part of the EU but offered signs that Germany was willing to discuss reforms.

“Our ideas of how the future European Union ought to look like may vary on the details but we, Germany and Britain, share the goal of seeing a strong, competitive European Union join forces,” she said.

“We need courage to bring about a change for the better today just as much as it was needed decades ago. We need to continue to write the success story of European unification for today.

“The challenge we face is nothing less than the question whether Europe will be able to assert its values, its interests and its economic strength that brings prosperity to its people durable also in the 21st century.”

The latest immigration figures showed 24,000 citizens from the eastern European countries arrived in the UK in the period, nearly three times the 9,000 in the previous year.

In her speech, Mrs Merkel said: “A Europe without borders is one of the greatest achievements of European unification.

“All member states, all citizens benefit from this.

“But it is also true that, to maintain and preserve this freedom of movement and gain acceptance for it from our citizens, even today, we need to muster the courage to point out mistakes and tackle them.”

The latest figures show the Government is in serious danger of breaking its pledge to cut net migration to below 100,000 by the 2015 general election.

Critics said the figures showed the target was unachievable as long as the UK remained within the EU.

Comment: Page 14; Bill Carmichael: Page 15.