One of the founding ideas behind the European Union is that there should be free movement for workers between its countries. But the prospect of immigration westwards from the EU's new eastern members, Romania and Bulgaria, has pushed governments from the area's three biggest economies to signal they want to put up new barriers.
The moves by France Germany and the U.K. reflect worries that immigration from the ex-Eastern Bloc countries to more developed EU economies could put pressure on other member countries' labor forces and welfare systems.
This means that a key EU meeting on the eastern European states on Thursday may be fractious. José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, pointed out this week that the freedom to move and work around the EU this is "one of the most valued principles by the EU citizens."
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In an attempt to quell concerns that people from Bulgaria and Romania will move to the U.K. to claim welfare once temporary controls are lifted at the end of the year, Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to cut unemployment benefits for migrants and called for new rules to stop "vast migrations" in an article in the Financial Times. This was seen by many as a return to his party's previous anti-immigration stance.
There has been increasing discontent from within Cameron's Conservative Party over apparent gains from anti-EU party U.K. Independence Party in the polls. Groups like MigrationWatch UK have raise concerns about immigrants costing taxpayers money by claiming benefits and using the country's free health and education systems.
Cameron's German counterpart, Angela Merkel, also announced a plan to limit social security benefit for migrants as part of her new coalition government. And in France, the government announced a crackdown on abuse of benefits by immigrant workers, branding this "a threat to the economic and social fabric of France."
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