David Cameron's ambition to renegotiate Britain's EU membership was given a boost yesterday when Poland's president said he was "eye-to-eye" with the Prime Minister on the "fundamental issues" about Europe's future.
Andrzej Duda told The Daily Telegraph, after a meeting with Mr Cameron, that it was "possible" for Britain and Poland to reach agreement on the question of benefit rights for EU migrants in the UK.
But Mr Duda urged Mr Cameron to acknowledge the contribution made by Polish workers to British prosperity, stressing that they paid more in taxes than they received in benefits.
Downing Street hopes to enlist Mr Duda, who took office last month, as an ally for EU reform. Mr Duda's former party, Law and Justice, sits with the Tories in the European Parliament.
During his first official visit to London, Mr Duda said he shared Britain's view on matters of sovereignty. "As regards some issues put forward by Prime Minister Cameron, I personally see eye-to-eye with him. What I mean here is first of all the sovereignty issue. I believe that the EU should be the union of nation states and that all deepening of ties between the member states cannot go beyond the limits of democracy.
"If you ask the Polish people, I believe that a vast majority of them would say they are pleased with EU membership, but also a majority consider very highly the sovereignty and independence of Poland - they are very attached to Polish tradition. So the issue of sovereignty is a very basic one for us.
"Of course, there are some differences over details - but on fundamental issues, such as sovereignty, there is an agreement."
However, Mr Duda remains at odds with Mr Cameron over the rights of EU citizens to claim benefits in Britain. About 690,000 Poles live in Britain, making them the largest single group of EU nationals in this country.
Mr Cameron wants to ensure that EU arrivals work for a minimum of four years before being entitled to in-work benefits such as tax credits. But Mr Duda said Poland would oppose any steps to restrict its nationals from living and working anywhere in the EU.
"I wish to very strongly underline, as the representative of Poland, what I would not like to see is any limitation to any of the four freedoms which are binding in the EU, for example on the free movement of people. A lot of young Poles, very well educated ones, are living in Britain. They are working hard. Of course they are building their own prosperity, but they are also contributing to the economic prosperity of the United Kingdom."
As for the specific proposal to restrict in-work benefits, Mr Duda said: "Of course I understand that the situation is difficult and it's not only about the Poles, but about other nationalities. The information that I have got suggests that Poles bring more into the British economy than they take away. That is why I asked the Prime Minister to be restrained in this respect."
But Mr Duda opened the door to a possible deal, adding that he was still awaiting Britain's official proposal. "An agreement is always possible, but I would like it to be a partnership-like agreement, one that takes into account the justified interests of our states and societies," he said.
Since the onset of the migration crisis, Poland and most of its neighbours have opposed the European Commission's plan for countries in the Schengen area to accept quotas of refugees. "It should be up to the sovereign decision of a member state," Mr Duda said.
He pointed to the scheme's central flaw, namely that migrants would not be free to choose their country of settlement. "The will of the refugees themselves seems not to be taken into account," said Mr Duda. "Can you do things to those people which are contrary to their own will? We hear a lot about human dignity - what is the relation between this and human dignity?"
Mr Duda also called for Nato forces to be deployed to protect Poland, a member of the alliance since 1999. "Nato has always acted according to a simple principle: it is not worth attacking somebody who is strong. For me, in a natural way, Nato should move to strengthen its eastern flank."