Asking for more restriction on intra EU immigration: Unproductive and politically dangerous

Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the EC in charge of Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, went to Helsinki where she participated in a debate about the future of Europe. Discussions focused on Economy, the euro, Banking Union, Data Protection, Net neutrality, Labour mobility/Free Movement and other issues. (EC Audiovisual Services, 24/09/2013).

Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the EC in charge of Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, went to Helsinki where she participated in a debate about the future of Europe. Discussions focused on Economy, the euro, Banking Union, Data Protection, Net neutrality, Labour mobility/Free Movement and other issues. (EC Audiovisual Services, 24/09/2013).

For the average EU citizen, the right of free movement within the Union’s borders, is the most important and visible attainment in the sixty year history of the European Union. Very few Europeans are in a position to appreciate the advantages of the free movement of capital and goods, while everybody understands and benefits from free movement of people. Yet even this visible to all achievement of free movement, and undoubtedly an existential justification of the EU, seems to be in peril in our modern times of flourishing inward looking extreme ideologies. Some core Union countries, the most wealthy and chauvinist of them, are demanding now to restrict this fundamental right, because they erroneously think, that their social benefit schemes are exploited by other EU nationals.

There are Press reports and newspaper articles in those countries, complaining even about hearing people speaking in the streets with foreign accents. It’s a shame even to discuss such issues. In reality though, countries like Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and other wealthy nations are asking the EU to create more disincentives on the free movement right, aimed at discouraging other Union nationals to immigrate to those member states and probably look for a job.

Moving for jobs; is it a crime?

This is a completely unreasonable demand however, because there are already in place so many restrictions on possible ‘welfare tourism’ practiced by some individuals, that the possibility of taking advantage of another country’s social welfare schemes is almost nil. Not to forget that two years ago, France used the legal restriction of the three month free stay right in another EU country without having a job, to drive out a number of Roma families coming from other Union countries.

Yesterday in Luxembourg EU home Affairs ministers discussed common measures on migration and refugees. Despite the fact that their overloaded agenda was full with the 500 dead bodies off the coasts of Lampedusa, they found the opportunity and the unfeelingness, at least some of them, to speak about the introduction of new impediments to the right of free movement within the EU.

The willing Lithuanians

The Lithuanian Presidency of the Council didn’t forget to mention this possibility in the Press release issued after the meeting. The relevant quote goes “The Council has also returned to the issue of free movement, already discussed in June. It took note of the interim report of the Commission on the free movement of persons and the related internal and social security problems. Council will discuss the final report after it is presented”.

The whole issue has seemingly acquired unbelievable dimensions in the Brussels corridors of power. Already the Commission’s Employment department has commissioned a study on this subject, bits and pieces of which have being leaked to the Press. Vivian Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Commissioner for Justice has received data from 19 member states on this issue. While addressing yesterday the Justice and Home Affairs Council, she appeared rather acquiescent with the idea, at least at the beginning of her intervention, and tried to offer well founded arguments against any new measures to further restrict the free movement right.

No need for more restrictions

She pointed out that “evidence suggests that the main motivation for EU citizens to make use of free movement is work-related”. Only this observation should have been enough to altogether forget this affair. The reason for that is that the European Union is spending a lot of money to increase the mobility of the Union’s labour force. All studies on this matter suggest that increasing workers mobility within the union will greatly increase competitiveness and productivity.

Reding, after arguing about the huge economic merits of labour mobility, she raised the tone and started posing rhetoric questions to ministers, at least some of them. “Who are the mobile EU citizens?” She asked. “Let’s look at the bigger picture: the vast majority of these persons move to work. Figures provided by Member States show that they are more likely to be of working age, more likely to be economically active and more likely to be in employment than nationals. This means that they contribute their share to national social security schemes. When you walk through your high streets and hear people talking with a foreign accent, it is very likely that these persons are net contributors and not ‘welfare tourists’. The share of those who are economically inactive is small. This gives a sense of proportion to the debate”.

Looking for petty political gains

In this way she exposed the real motives of the ‘interested’ ministers in Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and elsewhere. Unfortunately chauvinist rhetoric sells well, and politicians, belonging mainly in the right, not necessarily good, side of the spectrum are prone to this dangerous game. In Greece it was revealed that the most xenophobic political hodgepodge is a fascist gang, not really a political party but rather a criminal organisation specialising in money laundering, extortion and illegal arm and drugs trafficking.

Reding closed her intervention after reminding ministers that there are a lot of legal means currently in force to confront ‘welfare tourists’. No need for more impediments to free movement. Last but not least she pointed that, “EU rules do not harmonise either national security nor social assistance schemes. Member States can freely decide which benefits they want to set up, under which conditions they are going to pay, how much and for how long”.

Despite all that, it’s more than certain that the issue has not ended there. For as long as there is an audience for illogical chauvinistic discourse, there will be politicians to voice it.

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