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For Merkel, EU migration rules 'non-negotiable'

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For Merkel, EU migration rules 'non-negotiable'

Angela Merkel - Photo EU Council

(BERLIN) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel sees the free movement of people within the EU as non-negotiable, her spokesman said Monday, after she reportedly warned Britain against restricting it.

Free internal migration in the European Union is "an important European accomplishment", but Germany shares an interest in battling any abuse of the system, the spokesman said, reiterating the country's stance.

He did not directly deny a report in Monday's Spiegel news weekly that Merkel had warned British Prime Minister David Cameron on the sidelines of an EU summit last month that he was approaching a "point of no return" with the EU over his immigration proposals.

If he continues, Germany will no longer fight to keep Britain in the EU ahead of its possible referendum in 2017 on leaving, the report said.

"The great asset of free movement of persons within the European Union is, for Germany, not negotiable -- the chancellor has said that," Steffen Seibert told reporters.

"She has also said there is a strong interest in working together to jointly tackle possible problems with the abusive utilisation of free movement of persons," he added.

Downing Street declined to comment on "speculation" over Cameron's discussions with Merkel but insisted he would tackle the issue.

"The PM (prime minister) is clear that the boss here are the British people and he is going to look at what are the concerns the British people have about the impact of migration from the EU and how to address those," his official spokesman told reporters Monday.

Cameron wants to curb immigration and renegotiate Britain's relationship with Europe amid pressure on his Conservative Party from the anti-EU UK Independence Party ahead of next May's general elections.

He is due to announce how he will do so in a speech sometime before Christmas.

British media have reported he is mulling a range of options such as an "emergency brake" on immigration and a block on benefits for EU migrants.

He faces having to work around EU rules stating that citizens of most EU countries have the right to live and work in any other member state.

Faced with a rising tide of euroscepticism in his own party, Cameron has agreed to hold an in-out referendum on Britain's EU membership in 2017 if he wins a general election in May next year.

Finance minister George Osborne also stressed the "disquiet" in Britain over people coming from other parts of Europe "to claim our benefits".

"It was never envisaged that you would have such large numbers of people coming, people coming who don't have job offers, people who move on to our benefits system... and that causes a lot of public unhappiness," he told the BBC.


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