March 5, 2015 / 4:56 PM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 2-EU's Timmermans says need to address migrant welfare rules

* UK PM Cameron has promised EU referendum if re-elected

* Top EU official says Britain can drive change

* Says access to work does not mean automatic access to welfare (Re-leads, writes through after speech)

By Huw Jones and Kylie MacLellan

LONDON, March 5 (Reuters) - Public support for the European Union’s freedom of movement rules will dwindle if welfare abuse is not tackled, a top EU official said on Thursday, saying Britain can drive change in the Europe Union by engaging more with other member states.

Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission, also said stronger economic growth, rather than just EU initiatives, would be key to winning more support for the EU.

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain’s EU ties, then hold a referendum on membership, by the end of 2017 if his Conservative Party is re-elected in May.

Timmermans’ comments will be welcomed by Cameron, who has set out plans to restrict EU migrants’ access to welfare benefit payments in Britain.

“Public support will dwindle if the public thinks that free movement means undermining of social security systems ... we need to get that right,” Timmermans told an event in London.

“We need to make sure that it is clear ... while of course you cannot discriminate between nationals of member states, access to the labour market does not mean automatic access to social security systems.”

In a charm offensive which included references to British television dramas and football clubs, the Dutchman said Britain had an increasing amount of support in Europe for its reform agenda and Britons too often took a “nobody likes us but we don’t care” attitude.

“Britain can get far better results if it engages with Europe than standing on the sidelines and saying that Europe should change. Britain can drive the change,” he said.

Speaking to Reuters earlier on Thursday, Timmermans said policies such as the capital markets union — an initiative to boost funding for companies — would not be enough to win backing for Europe.

“If it creates more growth, I am sure it will help, but indirectly ... People are much too down to earth in the UK to be convinced just by announcing measures. They want results,” he said.

Critics have said the capital markets union, which the EU hopes will lift growth, could take years to make a difference. Timmermans said it was about “substance and not propaganda”.

As the EU executive’s “better regulation” supremo, he has already withdrawn 70 pieces of planned EU legislation and said the EU would announce another batch later this year.

Timmermans noted that cutting red tape, like strengthening the bloc’s internal market, was a move favoured by Britain particularly and said he had written to all commissioners asking them to come up with suggested rules to be scrapped.

“I want all areas to be targeted,” he said. (Editing by Larry King)

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