EU boss raps UK over discrimination
Britain must not "beat up" immigrants or brand them all criminals, EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker has warned in the wake of David Cameron's demands for a welfare squeeze to reduce new arrivals.
The new president of the European Commission - whose candidacy was bitterly opposed by the Prime Minister - said he would not "shoot down" the reform plans and wanted the UK to remain a member state.
But with immigration a key focus of political debate as mainstream parties battle the growing public popularity of Ukip, he issued a clear warning.
"Especially in Great Britain which always fought for the enlargement of the European Union, there has to be an end to discrimination against countries just because it goes down well topically when you beat up others," he told a TV debate.
"Self-flagellation is sometimes appropriate.
"I am utterly against behaving as if all Poles, all Romanians, all Bulgarians in the European labour market are of a basic mentality that is criminal. These are people who are working and earning their wages."
Last month, Mr Cameron set out plans to bar EU migrants from claiming welfare for the first four years after arriving in the UK and to deport those who do not find jobs within six months.
Setting out his key demands for a renegotiated membership deal to put to the electorate in a referendum by 2017 if the Tories retain power at next year's general election, he fell short of proposing a formal limit on new arrivals.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made no secret of her opposition to any measures which undermine the principle of the free movement of labour within the EU.
Mr Juncker said: "This fundamental right of free movement of workers cannot be questioned existentially because if you question the free movement of workers Great Britain has to know that one day the free movement of capital will also be called into question.
"Then it will be the end for London's tax rulings, that will no longer be possible in London.
"For me it is clear that free movement of labour was not enshrined in the treaties so that it could be abused. But it is the national legislatures who should fight against this abuse."
The former prime minister of Luxembourg said: "We did not shoot down these ideas right away because I believe that we have to talk about them.
"I am really interested in Great Britain remaining an active and constructive member of the EU."
Downing Street said: "The Prime Minister addressed these issues in his speech, stressing the important contribution of immigration to Britain and his support for the principle of free movement.
"But he also made clear that the British people were right to want controlled immigration and that free movement was not an unqualified right."
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said: "It's no wonder that David Cameron is getting criticism for his approach to Europe, he's spent the past four years burning bridges with our EU allies when he should have been building alliances.
"The tragedy for Britain is that there is a coalition within the European Union to deliver real reform, but David Cameron simply cannot take this forward because he lacks credibility in Brussels and lacks strength in Westminster."