BRUSSELS (Reuters) - German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said he had agreed with his British counterpart during an EU meeting in Brussels on Tuesday to work to improve the workings of the European Union.
At a news conference, Schaeuble was asked if he supported the aims of Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and the newly re-elected government to reform the EU before putting Britain’s continued membership to a referendum.
“We agreed — we spoke about this — that we will both make our contributions to this process,” the German minister told a news conference.
“The British desire to do a couple of things less bureaucratically, to limit abuse of the basic freedoms in EU treaties ... these are all points on which one can find a common solution,” he said.
Prime Minister David Cameron wants to cut back on EU interference in national affairs and address voters’ concerns about foreign EU citizens’ free access to Britain’s labor market and benefits.
He has said he believes his goals would require revising EU treaties, though other EU leaders say that is not practicable before a referendum he plans by 2017.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others insist that there can be no change to the basic freedom of movement of workers around the bloc, although Berlin and other wealthy governments agree with Britain on trying to curb what they see as abuses of welfare benefits by EU foreigners who do not work.
Schaeuble noted that the German government was in favor of changing EU treaties, notably on governance of the euro zone, but believed that was not possible in the near future and that some improvements could be made through a simpler process of intergovernmental agreements.
One of Osborne’s concerns is that euro zone rules could damage access for Britain, which does not use the single EU currency, to the common market.
Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; @macdonaldrtr; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky