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Sobotka: Deal is good compromise, can help keep UK in EU

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Brussels, Feb 20 (CTK reporters) – The agreement that European leaders and British Prime Minister David Cameron reached on Friday night is a good condition for the British people to decide to stay in the EU, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka told journalists after the EU summit late at night on Friday.

Sobotka said the deal was a good compromise that met the goals that the Czech Republic had: help Britain stay in the EU and “defend the justified interests of our citizens.”

After the EU-UK deal was reached, Cameron said he will campaign for his country to remain in the 28-member bloc. The British are likely to vote on this issue in a referendum in June. No country has left the EU so far.

Sobotka said it was far from easy to make the deal.

The EU summit was preceded by long negotiations and the first day of the meeting ended in the middle of the night and was immediately followed by a series of bilateral talks of politicians and diplomats.

The start of the second day of the plenary meeting was repeatedly postponed and it finally began on Friday night. However, European Council President Donald Tusk soon announced that a “legally binding and irreversible deal” that strengthened Britain’s “special status” in the EU was unanimously supported.

Sobotka called the deal “a decent compromise” in his first reaction.

As the Czech Republic is currently leading the Visegrad Group that also includes Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, Sobotka represented all the four countries in the talks on Friday. He also spoke on behalf of several more countries from Central and Eastern Europe.

Sobotka said the Visegrad Group strongly contributed to the effort to reach the deal.

The Czech position was based on non-discrimination against Czech citizens, equal treatment of people from other EU countries in Britain and the maintaining of free movement and the right to work abroad, he said.

“The Czech Republic had to clearly say it wants a strong Europe including the United Kingdom,” Sobotka said.

Nevertheless, the Czech Republic had to resolutely fight for the rights of its citizens to the last moment, he added.

Sobotka said Prague succeeded in blocking the original British plan for the cancelling of child benefits paid in Britain to European foreigners whose children stayed in their homelands.

According to available data, this concerned about 20,000 people and the biggest group of the foreign workers was in Poland.

The Brussels summit decided that the child benefits for children staying out of Britain would be indexed based on the living standards of the countries in which the children lived. Moreover, a transitory period was agreed on so that the new mechanism would apply to newcomers and only after 2020 concern the foreigners who received the child benefits already now.

Sobotka said Britain was against this and the negotiations about this issue lasted until the last moment.

He said the indexation would not be a principle that could be applied to other welfare in future and it also would not apply to people who commute every day to work a neighbouring country. “This is crucial for us. We have a lot of people who commute to Germany and Austria,” Sobotka said.

Another issue in which the Czech negotiators achieved a change of the British plan was the “emergency brake” that Cameron wants to use to cut some benefits for employees from other EU states, he said.

According the final agreement, the emergency brake can be imposed on newcomers to the British labour market for maximally four years and the mechanism may be applied for up to seven years, while Cameron originally demanded that it be applied for up to 13 years.

Sobotka said welfare such as sickness benefits, unemployment benefits and pensions would not be restricted.

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