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New Open Europe pamphlet: EU migrants should not be entitled to access national welfare systems for first three years

03 Nov 2014

Open Europe has today published a new pamphlet by Professor Damian Chalmers and Open Europe Research Director Stephen Booth which argues that national governments should be able to limit EU migrants’ access to out-of-work and in-work benefits, social housing and publicly funded apprenticeships until after three years. They argue that this could be achieved without a complicated EU Treaty change but by amending existing EU law.

The proposal would kill three birds with one stone. First, it will remove an effective “subsidy” to EU workers to perform low-paid jobs in the UK and create a fairer system, which could well have an impact on numbers and boost public confidence in free movement. Second, unlike ideas for quotas or caps on EU migrants, it leaves the basic principle of free movement of workers – which has been an overall benefit to the UK – intact, while not requiring a complicated EU treaty change. Finally, because of that, this proposal could win support in other capitals, including, importantly, Berlin.

Current EU rules impede national governments who want to have active employment policies where it ‘always pays to work’. National subsidies or benefits to facilitate domestic employment – such as the UK Government’s tax credits – can end up going to EU migrants and effectively subsidising low-paid or low-skilled migration.

The authors propose a new Citizenship and Integration Directive that would set out a new test for EU migrants’ integration in their host society – benefits would only be paid where the EU migrant has lawfully resided in their new country for three years. EU citizens would have a right to access public healthcare within their host country, but, for the first three years, the costs would be borne by their state of nationality and, insofar as there was a shortfall, through private health insurance that they were required to purchase. Children of an EU citizen would have a right to access childcare and primary and secondary education.

To read the pamphlet ‘A European labour market with national welfare systems: a proposal for a new Citizenship and Integration Directive’ in full please click here:
http://archive.openeurope.org.uk/Content/Documents/European_labour_market_with_national_welfare_systems__Chalmers_and_Booth__November_2014.pdf

Open Europe Research Director Stephen Booth said:

“Angela Merkel has consistently made it clear that Germany is very wary of unpicking the fundamental principle of free movement within the European Union. However, Germany and other national governments across the EU would be sympathetic to reforms to access to welfare that concretely address the inconsistencies and perverse incentives undermining public confidence in free movement – not just in the UK but across Europe.

“Instead of making a ‘big pledge’ on reducing the numbers of EU migrants through quotas or a cap, David Cameron should seek a three year moratorium on EU migrants’ access to welfare. These reforms would be far from simply symbolic, they would greatly increase the governments’ ability to target their welfare and employment policies at their own citizens and reduce EU citizens’ incentive to migrate for low-income jobs.”

Executive summary:

The inconsistencies and perverse incentives created by the European Union’s current rules on migrants’ access to national welfare systems has undermined public confidence in free movement and has left people in many countries feeling that the system is out of control. The pamphlet argues that this can be corrected without a complicated EU Treaty change but by amending existing EU law.

The authors propose a new EU Directive on Citizenship and Integration, which would fundamentally change the EU’s rules on access to benefits, based on the following central reforms:

  • Firstly, it would state the supremacy of national citizenship over EU citizenship by reiterating that welfare benefits are as central to it as the right to vote in national elections. It would set out that welfare benefits, social housing and publicly funded apprenticeships are in principle reserved for national citizens and can only be granted to EU citizens in limited circumstances.
  • Secondly, the Directive would set out a test for sufficient integration in a migrant’s new host country – benefits would only be paid where the EU migrant has lawfully resided in their host State for three years.
  • Thirdly, national laws and collective agreements protecting local workers from being undercut by the exploitation of migrant labour should be ring-fenced from EU law provided that these national rules do not discriminate between a State’s own citizens and other EU citizens. These laws might set out conditions surrounding the terms of hiring; terms in the contract of employment or services; as well as how the migrant is provided for by his/her employer or contractor whilst in the host State.
  • Fourthly, the Directive should set out clear safeguards to protect certain fundamental rights of EU migrants. Stronger safeguards should be put in place to protect EU citizens from discrimination in the private sector. Children of an EU citizen would have a right to access childcare and primary and secondary education. EU citizens would have a right to access public healthcare within their host State, but, for the first three years, the costs would be borne by their state of nationality and, insofar as there was a shortfall, through private health insurance that they were required to purchase.

This proposal would have important public policy implications. The current EU rules impede governments who want to have active employment policies where it ‘always pays to work’ as subsidies or benefits to facilitate domestic employment can end up going to EU migrants – effectively subsidising low-paid or low-skilled migration. The proposal stops this.

Secondly, it would rid the current framework of much of its complexity with all the possibilities for abuse and misunderstanding generated by this.

Finally, it would create a suitable balance between national citizenship and EU citizenship. The latter is to be additional to and must not compromise the former, which is the basis of the social contract between a citizen and his or her State. Nevertheless, this proposal grants EU citizens the right to seek employment opportunities across Europe and allows them the full benefits of a society when they have integrated into it.

Notes for editors:

1) For more information, please contact Stephen Booth on 0044 (0)788 162 5889 or the Open Europe office on 0044 (0)207 197 2333.

2) Damian Chalmers is Professor of European Union Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who is based half in the Law Department and half in the European Institute. Stephen Booth is Research Director of Open Europe. Both write in a personal capacity.

3) Open Europe is an independent think-tank calling for sweeping reform of the European Union with offices in London and Brussels, and a partner organisation Open Europe Berlin. Its supporters include: Lord Leach of Fairford, Director, Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd; Lord Wolfson, Chief Executive, Next Plc; Sir Simon Robertson, Deputy Chairman, HSBC Holdings Plc; David Frost CMG, Chief Executive, Scotch Whiskey Association; Hugh Sloane, Co-Founder and Chief Executive, Sloane Robinson; Sir Stuart Rose, former Chairman, Marks and Spencer Plc; Jeremy Hosking, Founder, Hosking & Co Ltd; Sir Henry Keswick, Chairman, Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd; Sir Martin Jacomb, former Chairman, Prudential Plc; Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover KG, Life President, J Sainsbury Plc; David Mayhew, former Chairman, JP Morgan Cazenove; Tom Kremer, Chairman, Seven Towns Ltd; Michael Freeman, Co-founder, Argent property group.

For a full list, please click here:
http://archive.openeurope.org.uk/Page/Supporters/en/LIVE

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