Immigration: A 'very British' issue

Anna Malmstrom and Nick Robinson

Today I interviewed EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom about immigration.

She is seen in London as rather more sympathetic to the UK government's concerns than some of her fellow commissioners.

However, her words today did not help confirm that view.

She dismissed calls for reform of free movement as a "very British" issue and said there was little support for renegotiation of any European treaties.

"There's a reluctance to do major treaty changes in any area for the moment. There's an awareness if we open up there will be wish lists coming from other countries."

Sweden's former Europe minister said that no country in Europe had gained more from the enlargement of the EU than the UK and insisted that there was no "concrete" evidence of so-called benefit tourism in the UK.

"You have a generous benefit system but so do many other countries so I don't know why this debate is so intense in the UK," she said.

"But I've also failed to get any concrete evidence that there is a massive abuse of benefits. We've asked for that evidence but we've not received that evidence, that there's a massive abuse of benefits."

I asked her whether the European Commission did not have to respond to public concern on the issue.

"We should listen, but just because there is a growth in racist parties saying we should close our borders... doesn't mean the majority of us would want to vote for these parties in any country."

It is clear that the Commission is not working on or sympathetic to British demands which means, as the charming Commissioner Malmstrom made clear, that the British government needs to find some allies in other countries and fast.

PS You can listen to a recording of the event here, at the Chatham House website.