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Prague to defend current rules for foreigners working in Britain

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Prague, Feb 17 (CTK) – It is unacceptable for the Czech Republic that the changes Britain seeks in a draft agreement with the EU affect the foreigners who are already working in Britain, the Czech cabinet agreed on Wednesday and asked PM Bohuslav Sobotka to present the position at the upcoming EU summit.

Sobotka (Social Democrats, CSSD) said he expected the negotiations at the summit to be very hard. He said they might last the whole night from Thursday to Friday.

The demands Britain has submitted in connection with its planned referendum on its EU membership and that European Council President Donald Tusk presented in the past days after consulting British Prime Minister David Cameron, will dominate the February 18-19 summit in Brussels together with the migrant crisis.

Controversies over the British demands mainly concern the proposed changes to the welfare system and the introduction of “an emergency brake,” which would enable London to temporarily restrict the payment of selected welfare benefits.

“We do not want and cannot admit that the changes immediately affect the [foreign] people who are working in Britain. It must be clear that they would only apply to newcomers,” said Tomas Prouza (CSSD), the state secretary for European affairs.

He said some of the proposed rules would be unacceptable not only for Central Europe but also for the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Romania, Spain and Italy.

Sobotka (CSSD) spoke with Cameron by phone on Tuesday and he specified the reservations about the British proposal as shared by the Visegrad Four (V4) countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia).

“It is impossible to change overnight the rules for those who have been working in Britain, fulfilling all duties and contributing to the welfare system,” Prouza said.

He said it is a priority to reach agreement with Britain.

“We have made a number of compromises to keep Britain in the EU. We have yielded a lot in various areas of the countries’ relations in and outside the euro zone,” Prouza said.

He said it is up to Britain to modify its position now.

One of the controversial points is the indexation of child benefits.

The EU countries’ citizens working in Britain are entitled to child benefits even though their children live in their homeland. However, under the draft agreement, Britain could lower the benefits in accordance to the living standards in the foreign workers’ homeland.

According to CTK’s sources, European bodies and governments failed to find a way of restricting the indexation of child benefits only in Britain. Other countries would have this right as well and the richer ones would probably apply it.

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