EU labour mobility: Inconvenient truths for everybody

Visit by László Andor, Member of the European Commission in charge of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, to Bristol, UK. (EC Audiovisual Services, 10/2/2014).

Visit by László Andor, Member of the European Commission in charge of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, to Bristol, UK. (EC Audiovisual Services, 10/2/2014).

With a memorable lecture at the University of Bristol, entitled “Labour Mobility in the European Union – The Inconvenient Truth”, the European Commissioner László Andor, overturned all and every argument raised by Europe’s xenophobic vote mongers who oppose the internal labour mobility in the EU. Speaking in Britain though, he proved that immigrant workers in the UK work more than the natives having an employment rate of 77% in relation to 71% and they claim 2.1% of social benefits while representing 4.6% of the working population. Yet the UKIP xenophobic political party of Nigel Farage, scores very high in opinion polls, even claiming the first position in voting intentions in view of the forthcoming European election of 22-25 May. It was exactly this contradiction that the Commissioner failed to explain as it will be shown here below.

In any case, Andor started from the basics which are the four principles/freedoms on which the European Union has developed into a unique paradigm in the world. He reminded everybody, and especially to its British audience, that those liberties cannot be served ‘a la carte’. For example Britain cannot continue being a member of the single EU market selling its products and services without any restriction, and at the same time, block the entrance of EU citizens in the UK. Speaking on Monday he didn’t make any references to the referendum of Sunday 9 February, in which the Swiss voted with the razor-thin margin of 50.3% to keep out the EU citizens. Andor left to others the task to remind the Swiss that they cannot cherry pick their relations with the EU. It’s either the whole thing or nothing.

The four freedoms

Probably for historic reasons he choose to refer to those four principles one by one. Obviously the first point is that free movement for workers within the EU does not stand alone. He stressed that “Labour mobility is just one of the four freedoms on which the EU’s Single Market is based, along with free movement of goods, capital and services. These fundamental principles have been written into the EU’s Treaties since its foundation and as such have been ratified on numerous occasions by the parliaments of all EU countries…”.

The Commissioner then noted that of course there are rules governing the presence of other EU citizens presence in a different member state than their own. For example a job seeker is entitled to look for work in another EU country for up to six months, or even longer, on condition that he or she continue to seek employment in the host country and have a “genuine chance” of getting work. He then clarified that “job seekers are entitled to unemployment benefit from the EU country where they last worked (usually their home Member State), if they were registered as unemployed in the Member State of last employment. Just to be clear, host countries do not have to pay unemployment benefits to job seekers arriving from another EU country from day one. However, the EU rules for people who are not working, or genuinely looking for work, are more restrictive”.

The inconvenient truths

This paragraph tells a large part of the story. There is no doubt that all Union member states have the powers and the EU provided legal means to contain any attempts for abuse of their social security systems. Consequently, the rise of the xenophobic political parties and the extreme groups is an issue that cannot be explained by the presence of citizens from other EU countries. There must be something else that has made ordinary democratic voters to prefer extremists.

However, the good Commissioner didn’t try to elaborate on this question. He avoided to criticize the labour market conditions that have led a large part of the working population to live in third world conditions, in the heart of Europe. The ‘mini jobs’ in Germany and the lack of a mandatory minimum wage in Britain, have deprived a good part of the labour force from the ability to support, not a decent, but the barest minimum of living standards. Not to say anything about the unemployment in the south of Eurozone, that has reached unheard of before highs. At the same time the Eurozone member states have spent €4.5 trillion during the past four years to support the failing banking industry.

In any case, Andor went on and proved in detail that mobile workers within the EU are an asset for their host country and a loss for their own member state. This is particularly true for the south of Eurozone, where even highly specialized people like doctors and engineers are obliged to look for a job in the north. It’s hideously expensive for the state and the family to educate and train a doctor. If this person then leaves his country, the society that paid for his education receives nothing in return.

 

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