EU migration law changes rejected

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The Independent Online

Prime Minister David Cameron today said he had seen off attempts to change European laws on migration which could have stopped the UK from sending asylum seekers back to other EU countries.

The UK was backed by Germany in successfully opposing the proposals at a European Council summit in Brussels which has been dominated by plans for the bailout of the troubled Greek economy.

Mr Cameron confirmed that he had received assurances that Britain would not be called upon to contribute to EU financial support for Greece and vowed he would be "vigilant" to ensure that the UK was not sucked into the multi-billion euro bailout.

He also called on Europe to lift the red tape burden on small businesses to help the continent escape from its economic crisis. British calls for businesses with 10 employees or fewer to be exempted from most Brussels regulation had won support from several other EU states, he said.

With up to one million people believed to have fled Libya during the current unrest and tens of thousands attempting to cross from north Africa into Europe, the European Commission has floated proposals to suspend the so-called Dublin arrangements which require asylum seekers to be returned to the country through which they entered the EU.

The change could mean an additional influx of migrants to Britain, which is a magnet for many people who enter the EU by clandestine routes via countries like Italy, Greece and Spain.

At a press conference at the end of the two-day summit, Mr Cameron said: "I was worried before this European Council about potential proposals to suspend the Dublin arrangements that allow us to return asylum seekers to the country from which they have come.

"Britain and Germany together made sure that these proposals aren't even referred to in any way in the Council conclusions.

"I think that is important. We want controlled migration in Europe and controlled migration above all in Britain."

Mr Cameron said he had secured assurances that the European Financial Stability Mechanism, to which Britain is signed up, would not be used to raise funds to prop up the shaky Greek economy. Instead, a separate mechanism involving only members of the eurozone will be used.

Britain's only contribution to the multibillion-pound bailout will come through its membership of the International Monetary Fund, which is expected to offer further support.

The new eurozone support is dependent on the parliament in Athens approving an austerity package put forward by Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou next week. Eurozone finance ministers will meet on July 3 to finalise the deal.

Mr Cameron said: "Britain is not in the euro. Britain is not going to join the euro, but we do want a successful eurozone and a growing eurozone, not least because 40% of our exports go to the eurozone.

"We want the eurozone to sort out its problems and its difficulties and we've been constructive in trying to make that happen."

He added: "We were not involved in the first Greek bailout. We haven't been involved in talks about potential Greek bailouts. So I think it was absolutely right not to use the European Financial Stability Mechanism - the EFSM - for future payments in terms of Greece.

"I wanted to seek assurances at this European Council that Britain won't be called on to do that. I sought those assurances, I have received those assurances, but nevertheless I will continue to be vigilant on this issue."

Mr Cameron said Mr Papandreou was "taking great steps forward" to try to deal with Greece's current difficulties.

He added that all European countries should take steps to strengthen their banks' balance sheets to ensure they are prepared for any future shocks. And he said there should be no "watering down" of the new Basel III agreement to strengthen bank capital requirements.

Mr Cameron said that EU countries had no leeway for monetary or fiscal stimulus to their economies, as interest rates were at record lows and high national deficits prevented tax cuts and increases in spending.

"The best stimulus we can give to our economies is to make sure we are promoting competition, deregulation, supply-side reform, innovation, structural changes and promoting trade both within Europe and with the rest of the world," he said.

He said he had been pressing for the completion of the single market in services, the removal of barriers to trade and additional help for small businesses.

"I've secured into the communique some strong language about deregulating on small businesses and particularly micro-businesses, trying to exempt them from classes of regulation, as we've done in the UK," he said.

"I do believe there's growing support for this agenda... A number of other member states have said how much they want to work on that agenda and make sure European Councils give that agenda a boost."

Mr Cameron said that after "quite a difficult start some months ago", the EU had now achieved "real unity and purpose and political will" over Libya.

"I believe that we must be patient and we must be persistent because I think the time pressure is on Colonel Gaddafi and his regime. It is not on us," he said.

"I believe we need to show real support for the Transitional National Council, who I believe are demonstrating they are not extremists, they are not Islamists, they are not tribal. They want a united Libya, but a more democratic Libya.

"And I also think we should push ahead with the measures Europe has taken in terms of sanctions and travel bans and asset freezes, all of which have been effective and show that Europe can actually make a difference on an issue like this."

It was important to remember that the mission in Libya was about "protecting civilian life and stopping Gaddafi and his evil regime shelling, killing, maiming and murdering", he said.