IMG_9457

Free Movement of Professionals

 Logo

Free Movement of Professionals

How does it make the EU richer and smarter?
16 June 2015, European Parliament

 

1

On 16 June 2015, EPN in collaboration with ECAS and UNITEE organized a panel on Free Movement of Professionals at the European Parliament. The event was co-hosted by Ms. Eva Paunova, MEP and Mr. Jo Leinen, MEP. Mr. Selçuk Gültaşlı, EU correspondent at Zaman Media Group, started the panel by indication the necessity and importance of further developing Free Movement of labor and professionals in order to achieve a functioning single market.

2 Eva PaunovaMs. Paunova was then introduced to give keynote speech. Ms. Paunova underlined that free movement of professionals is one of the key pillars of the Europe 2020 strategy. Moreover she noted that “we do need thriving businesses in Europe and businesses need international professionals”.  The need for new legislation that promotes ease of mobility across borders was also stressed. She also introduced a few ways to help move forward. For instance, ERS has been active in 26 languages which allows them to reach a larger pool of people. Another idea was to encourage legislation for health insurance overseas. This way people working in other countries will be covered, or at the very least reimbursed. It also very important to recognize diplomas given from different countries so those who have completed their education can earn a decent living based on it.

3 Jorg TaggerMr. Jorg Tagger, deputy head of unit at DG employment gave the second keynote speech. Mr. Tagger sees the Free Movement of labor as one of the key pillars of the internal market. He explained that labor mobilization is becoming a hot topic and that the commission is proposing a balanced approach to labor mobility.  Mr. Tagger also touched on the issue of social security and described how regulations have been improved to protect European citizens working within EU and European Economic Area countries. Talking from data, Mr. Tagger noted, “20 percent of Europeans would be willing to move to another country for work”. This is a significant statistic when considering that only around three percent of Europeans work in another country. In order to encourage more people, the commission is working on a labor-mobilizing package that will also revise social security coordination. He explained some of the aspects of his package and how they will help the cause. These however introduced some challenges that will need to be addressed through careful revision and assessment of the deal.

4 Assya KavrakovaMs. Assya Kavrakova, Director of ECAS, focused on the importance of free movement of professionals as a contributor to advances in economy as well as democracy. She indicated “studies reveal that Erasmus students are better positioned to find job after graduation due to their international experience”. This shows that free mobility is not only about economics, but also about a better democracy. She also talked about how certain studies have shown to improve the overall quality of life for those who participate. They also show a higher level of participation during elections which makes them more active in society. Unfortunately, some challenges such as certain delays and requests for documents can pose as threats to the success of the program. Lack of recognition of diplomas was also stressed as an issue again.

5 Giovanni Collot

Mr. Giovanni Collot from UNITEE noted that the Free Movement of professionals aids in creating a common market and cultivating New Europeans. Immigrants that travel to Europe bring with them growth and innovations due to their experience in so many different cultures. He did point out that education, or lack thereof, can be a challenge. Nevertheless, this mobility aids in rise of democracy, creation vibrant economy and also in strengthening of the European identity.

Mr. Melih Erdem Koctepe, business consultant at Benson & Winch, took up the topic from a business perspective. He noted that there is lack of candidates in some sectors, despite relatively high employment rates. For this reason, companies hire talent from countries like India or China rather than Europe. It was also stated that work permits can be difficult for some to obtain and will slow down the hiring process. Decreasing the  need for work permits will allow Europe to expand its competitive market. Encouraging and improving Free Movement of professionals would therefore allow a more efficient allocation of resources and also cause significant economic growth.

Mr. Matthias Busse, researcher at CEPS, indicates that despite all the benefits that the Free movement of Labor would bring, there are still significant challenges. Professionals have sought to move across borders due to the recent crisis, but they experience language and bureaucratic hurdles. There is also uneven mobility of professionals. Most professionals move along East-West corridor, but there is not much of mobility along North-South. As a result of free movement, stock of Euro has increased and there is circular migration that is helping economic growth. In order to enable better conditions, we should tackle language and bureaucratic barriers. While there have been language courses offered, they have been costly and time consuming, but effective nevertheless. Moreover, there is a need for increased communication between institutions and promotion of the opportunities available.

 5 Melih Erdem    6 Matthias Bose    7 Questions

To summarize, there was a consensus that the Free Movement of Professionals is an important driver of economic growth and the creation of a functioning single market. Education of professionals was also mentioned to be very important for an economically stable Europe.  Free Movement of Professionals also strengthens European identity, entrepreneurship and innovation. Barriers standing in the way of personal, social, and economic success of professionals include bureaucratic barriers, language barriers, fear of insurance benefits across borders, and lack of recognition of bordering education systems. Various solutions were discussed to combat these barriers, the most seemingly promising to be the revision of the Labor Mobility Package in December of 2015. The revisions will include revising Social Security rules, consulting with stakeholders, and issuing a targeted review of labor mobility. In accordance to tackling the education barrier, MEP Eva Paunova and Ms. Assya Kavrakova both mentioned how improving the recognition of various diplomas, programs, and related job experiences across borders is a priority of the EU.

Authors: M.Kafi Citci, Fatima Naqvi & Uroosa Khalid

Pictures

Ultimate Responsive Image Slider Plugin Powered By Weblizar
UNITEE logo

Understanding the limits of free movement

Syed Kamall

As a Londoner, I am proud to represent one of the most diverse cities in the world. For centuries, the UK and London have opened our doors to people from all over the world seeking a better life and looking to contribute to life in Britain.

However, when voters express concerns, politicians cannot simply bury their head in the sand or dismiss their concerns. To do so only fuels the rise of extremist forces. The role of all politicians must be to listen to the people they represent, and at present they are telling me on the doorsteps of London that there is lack of confidence in EU freedom of movement. Politicians need to look at what needs to be done to regain that confidence.

The founding principles of Freedom of Movement are well intentioned; better opportunities to start businesses and trade across the European Union (EU), and greater opportunities to travel, live, learn and work. It is an appealing prospect to someone like me who believes in open trade and open markets. The spirit of exploration and of foreign investment is how Britain and many other EU countries became great.

And of course, I believe that the freedom to live, work and travel gives us all as nations the important opportunity to understand each other, to see each other’s differences and similarities, and gain a greater appreciation of different cultures.

Freedom of movement is also a reaction to the world in which we live: a globalised world where the movement of goods, people and capital is a reality. We cannot seek to seal ourselves from some parts of modern living yet enjoy a world of imported foods, iPads, furniture, cheaper holidays and travel and global companies.

The UK has always been a successful trading nation and has built relationships around the world to help its companies prosper, which is why we continue to support the strengthening of a genuine EU Internal Market. But in reality countries differ in their specialisation, and the skills they have to offer. Increasingly those skills shortages are filled with other nation’s populations.

Some would say those skills shortages can be filled by putting in place a visa scheme, and putting strict limits on those that can come and work and live in a country. However, in my experience of talking to international businesses, the challenge is to put in place a well-functioning and efficient visa system that is not costly, time consuming or overly bureaucratic,  but also is flexible enough to adapt to changing demands.  Companies from fast growing economies in Asia and the United States want an economy and a system that is simple to navigate.

Free movement allows businesses to recruit from a much wider pool of individuals. It allows companies to fill skills shortages, expand into new markets, increase their supply chains and have the flexibility needed during periods of growth and loss. In my country, our public services and services sectors would find it very difficult to cope without migrants.

 

In the UK, many migrants don’t just come to work; they come to start a business. According to a 2014 report by the Centre for Entrepreneurs, 14% of start-up businesses in the UK were founded by immigrant entrepreneurs. It said that there are 456,073 immigrant entrepreneurs working in the UK who have founded 464,527 businesses which employ 8.3 million people. Whether they are from countries inside or outside the EU, we must retain these job-creating entrepreneurs. However, in the UK we face the worrying prospect that those entrepreneurs studying in the UK will take those skills out of the country to set up businesses elsewhere. 42 percent of non-EU students have said that they intend to set up their own business after graduation, but only a third will do so in the UK.

So let’s be clear that many people who go to other countries either plug an important skills gap, or are entrepreneurs who generate growth, jobs and opportunities in their host country. And let us also be clear that EU migration works both ways. More than 14 million EU citizens are resident in another member state – 2.8% of the total EU population, nearly 2.5 million of those people are British.

However, as a politician I hear on many doorsteps concerns about the impact that freedom of movement is having. The main concerns are over the numbers of immigrants, the ensuing pressures on local health or education services, cultural cohesion as well as opposition to benefits tourism.

Freedom of movement was introduced in order to facilitate workers and the movement of goods and people. However, increasingly the people of European Union countries feel that through peripheral legislation from the EU, and a number of contentious judgements from the European Court of Justice, they simple are not a part of what they signed up for. They fear that an area of free movement has become an area of harmonised EU social security.

The rules should be simple and they should be clear, that if you go to a country you either need to be able to find employment or be able to financially support yourself. David Cameron, along with Angela Merkel and a number of other national leaders from other EU countries are looking at how they can bring in reforms to address these issues. Many of these reforms can be negotiated through the already existing framework, such as national reforms of social security systems, or reclaiming healthcare payments from an EU migrants’ home Member State. We can also tighten domestic law to ensure people who cannot support themselves and have not contributed to the social security system can be returned to their home state. In my own country, I believe that the simplest (but also most radical) way to tackle the concerns would be to move towards a contributory benefits system.

However, some Member States will always provide a pull factor. My own home city of London is an obvious example. It is not only the greatest city in the world, but one that people from all over the world want to visit, and make their life there. Much like New York, Berlin, Paris, or Barcelona, bustling cities will always draw people to them in search of new opportunities.

It is an undeniable truth that Europe’s colossal disparity in wages will continue to draw people to other countries. In 2012, company employees in Bulgaria received, on average, €3,598 (£2,809; $4,495) net annually. In Romania that figure is €4,004. For the UK the figure was €33,216, for Germany €26,925 and Denmark €32,396. They will equalise as growth, trade, infrastructure and wages pick up in countries that are still recovering from decades of Communism, but not for some time (especially in the current climate).

The ambitions of Member States is for the EU to expand its membership. In the UK, my Party has championed enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe. However, those countries joining the EU and subsequently the Schengen area should display the necessary economic, social and judicial infrastructure, and the ability to guard the external border. Countries should not be admitted without transitional controls whilst there is “work in progress”. I say this as much out of concern for the economies of the countries that join. I have spoken to politicians from ‘new’ EU countries such as Poland and Bulgaria who have complained to me that London and the UK is attracting some of their best and brightest people. It is frustrating that they only whisper these concerns and to me and to the British Prime Minister David Cameron while publicly expressing concerns over British attempts to reform freedom of movement, but they are genuinely concerned about the impact that ‘brain drain’ is having on the economic situation in their countries. We should be concerned about this both from the perspective of countries attracting new migrants as well as those losing their brightest and most talented people, when looking at future accession negotiations.

It has been my experience that people believe in fairness. They believe in systems that reward hard work and those who play by the rules. Somewhere along the way in much of northern Europe, something has gone wrong and people are losing support for freedom of movement. I firmly believe that, as politicians, our job is to respond to those concerns by tightening our domestic social security laws, by tackling those who abuse free movement, but most importantly, by showing that many people who move abroad do so with entrepreneurial intent.

I always tell people – as my father used to tell me – that you can achieve whatever you want to as long as you work hard and believe in yourself. If people want to come to my country, work hard, create a business, pay taxes, live by the rules, and employ other people, we should welcome that. The fact that so many people are concerned shows that the system needs reform and improvement, to restore people’s confidence in the functioning of freedom of movement within the EU.

Retrieved from The New European, issue 4

UNITEE logo

A fabric of many golden threads

One of the most important effects of free movement is the exchange of opinions and experiences. But are we finally witnessing the creation of a common and lasting European identity? Or is it something limited to élites and, in the end, an utopia?

By Claudia Samaras
The right to travel, live, work, study or retire in any EU country is the first of the four fundamental freedoms of the European single market, as well as well as a fundamental component of the set of rights linked to the status of EU citizenship. The concept of free movement of people was first established with the signing of the Schengen Agreement in 1985 and the subsequent Schengen Convention in 1990, which initiated the abolition of border controls between participating countries. Being part of the EU legal and institutional framework, the Schengen cooperation has gradually been extended to include most EU Member States as well as some non-EU countries. At present, “the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States” is guaranteed by Title IV of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and the Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004.

Undeniably, the right to travel and reside freely in any Member State represents an immense potential for European citizens. Remarkably, as confirmed by the Standard Eurobarometer 81, the possibility of visiting the Eiffel Tour in Paris or the Coliseum in Rome without bureaucratic burdens is highly valued by European citizens. According to the report, “the freedom to travel, study and work in Europe remains the main representation associated with the European Union”. It is, in other words, the most appreciated aspect of what the European Union is and represents; it is the one element that citizens would not want to see themselves deprived of.

Over the years, European citizens have learnt to appreciate that immense potential, as they have the opportunity to experience unhindered all different cultures, traditions and lifestyles of the European Union. These are numerous and extremely diverse from one another – the cultural and linguistic richness of Europe is namely astonishing. Let it suffice to mention that in Europe there are as much as 225 indigenous languages and countless traditional dances and culinary peculiarities. Being able to study and work abroad brings people and cultures closer and makes them more open to accept differences and diversity. Eventually, it promotes a perception of differences less as a threat but rather as an opportunity for development. Think of the over 3 million students who benefitted from EU Erasmus grants since the exchange programme’s launch in 1987. Think of a Spanish young man living for 6 months in Germany, thereby experiencing the German culture, traditions and language, but also experiencing the cultures, traditions and languages of the British, Italian, Portuguese, French, Bulgarian and Croatian students who decided to spend the same period of time in the same university as he did. This can lead to nothing else than a personal openness towards European cultures and thus to an always stronger European internal cohesion and acceptance of diversity.

According to a study conducted by Russell King and Enric Ruiz-Gelices in 2003, the participation to an international exchange programme gives students and graduates a more ‘European’ identity and a greater insight into European issues. Secondly, this experience increases the chances that graduates would pursue their subsequent career paths in continental Europe, continuing thereby the cultural exchange initiated by the programme. In other words, such an experience makes European citizens more European, thus more caring about the European Union and its mission.

Hence, the central question to be asked is “does the free movement of people contribute to the achievement of a strong European identity?”

In order to provide this question with an answer, one should first clarify the meaning of the very concept of identity, which over the years has been subject to great academic debate. One argument widely present in research trying to go in the depth of the concept of identity is that this notion is always linked to the dichotomy self-other. This argument goes far back in history and finds a prominent articulation in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit:  “Each is for the other the middle term, through which each mediates itself; and each is for himself, and for the other, an immediate being on its own accord, which at the same time is such only through its mediation. They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another”.  In other words, the definition of a collective identity depends on the definition of an opposite, different identity.

Collective identities, as highlighted by British Sociologist Gerard Delanty in his paper “Is there a European Identity?”, also possess a narrative dimension. “They can be seen as the stories people tell about themselves in order to give continuity to their existence. Such narratives are the basis of memory and express the performative and public aspect of identity”. Some academics argue that, since Europeans share the same set of values, they also share a common European identity. However, European values are in many aspects very similar to, say, the American ones; this cannot therefore be the discriminating variable for the existence of a European identity.

Unknown to many, there is a Declaration on European Identity signed in 1973 by the Heads of State or Government of nine Member States with the intention “to introduce the concept of European identity into their common foreign relations”. Although a mere formal declaration is not enough to guarantee the de facto existence of such identity, it was a strong statement at the time to show the commitment of political actors to promote a strong European identity. This is therefore important for, as proven by the study of Michael Bruter “Winning Hearts and Minds for Europe”, the communication activity and the promotion of symbols associated with the EU on part of European and national institutions has a significant effect on European identity.

Interestingly, at the European council meeting in Laeken in 2001, the opposite vision of the EU as a threat to national identities was brought up. This diametrically different perception of the European reality either as a threat to the national ones or as an opportunity to be promoted should be kept in mind in any consideration of the topic. It is indeed very recurrent and inevitable when dealing with multiple feelings of belonging as it is the case of the concept of the European identity. As reported by the Standard Eurobarometer 77, published in July 2012 but still the most recent one on the topic, “a very large majority of Europeans are attached to their country (91%) and more than half of them are “very attached” to it (51%)”. Local attachments also appear to be strong: 88% of Europeans are attached to their city/town/village including 49% who are “very attached”. This highlights a very important aspect: feelings of belonging are not exclusive. If an individual feels very attached to his/her city, town or village, this does not prevent him or her from having an attachment to the country. The same applies to the attachment to the European Union, which shall over time be definitely added to the feelings of belonging that citizens already feel towards closer realities. Using the words of Edgar Morin, “the European identity, like any identity can be a component of a poly identity”.

Possibly, the quantifiable aspect that most reflects European identity is the one of “attachment to the EU” measured by the European Commission on occasion of the Standard Eurobarometer 77 mentioned above. According to it, there has been a strong deterioration in citizen’s attachment to the European Union from 2010 to 2012 – possibly due to the economic crisis that hit the European economy since 2008. The data collected show that 46% of respondents declare to be attached to the EU (-7 percentage points compared to 2010), whereas 52% declared not to feel any attachment to it. This data must be considered carefully and no superficial conclusion should be drawn from it. It is indeed evident that contingencies such as economic or political crises affect the punctual results of pools such as the one presented above. As a consequence, these should not be regarded as an indicator of a long-time period trend but rather as punctual indicator of citizen’s satisfaction with the European project. In other words, the cultural identification with the European Union could be a component of the answers, but not the only one. Other factors could influence the answers, such as the disappointment with specific policies or with the handling of extraordinary socio-political circumstances.

Finally, one last aspect should be considered: The fact that attachment to the EU is more widespread among citizens who show a high political interest index (56%, compared with 37% of those citizens with no interest in politics) indicates that, should political participation increase, with good probability so would citizens’ attachment to the EU. Also, since political interest usually leads to more political information and knowledge, one of the reasons for such a lack of attachment to the EU and, thus, European identity, could be the stereotypes and the commonplaces about the EU. These could and should be fought on the side of European, national and local institutions and media through both schooling and educational campaigns, accompanying European citizens towards a greater and deeper knowledge of the European reality.

So, “does free movement of people contribute to the achievement of a strong European identity?”. Yes. It contributes to an always stronger European identity. However, it is far from determining it alone. There is a need for top-down educational campaigns and a strong effort on side of the institutions to promote a positive perception of the European Union. Of course, since every communication requires two interlocutors, citizens must be proactive and responsive to such institutional endeavour.

The identitarian mosaic of European society is the invaluable result of centuries of history and should therefore be safeguarded and cherished. Nonetheless, European identity should equally be promoted and enforced, for by no means it represents a threat to such a great heritage. Countless golden threads are better off if pulled together in a strong and refined fabric then confusedly left in a twisted knot.

Retrieved from The New European, issue 4

UNITEE logo

Freedom of movement: remedy or disease?

Dr Adem Kumcu, President of UNITEE.

According to some experts on EU affairs, the defining political issue of coming years will be free movement of labour. We can already see it unfold: the daily political debate is increasingly polarised between those who advocate for limiting freedom of movement and those instead calling for its expansion. A vivid representation of this debate is to be found in the constant exchanges between British Prime Minister Cameron, the main supporter of the need to scale down the right to free movement, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with her reminder that freedom of movement is one of the fundamental values at the core of the EU, and thus untouchable.

It is exactly its position at the core of the European Union that makes the debate on free movement so relevant:  as the one of the ‘four freedoms’, as they are called, more connected to the concept of EU citizenship, its evolution will have long-term effects for all of us. For this reason, it is important to understand the two sides’ motives, without dismissing one or the other. It is worth to understand both those who think free movement is a ‘disease’ and those who think it is a ‘remedy’, if we may say so.

Let us start with the negative aspects of free movement. They are commonly represented by media and political leaders with alarmed tones which more often than not fall into the scope of populism and easy electoral gain. But this does not mean that they are not existent: on the contrary, they manifest realistic concerns on the health of free movement principle. And indeed, in recent years some worries about freedom of movement have emerged, stronger after the 2007 accession of Romania and Bulgaria: among all the possibility that it might endanger social cohesion and bring about delinquency and the risk of drain on national finances, present in the debate with the term ‘benefits tourism’. The perceived risk, in other words, is that a policy of open borders will foster movement of individuals from less favoured areas to the most advanced ones, thus bringing about unsustainable pressure on local health and education, on the one hand, and an increased wage competition, on the other. An issue which does not have to be underestimated is also the potential cultural clash deriving from the new diversity of our pluri-national societies.

All these aspects have contributed in creating a sense of impending danger, which has quickly grown to encircle the concept itself of European Union, as it has been well expressed at the last European elections with the exploit of so-called ‘Eurosceptic’ parties. The solutions advocated by them seems easy: the return to a policy of closed borders. The ideal set-up of these groups is the one of ‘fortress Europe’, reinforced: not only strong controls on the external borders of the EU, but also limitations at its very heart.

As appealing as this solution might look, I cannot help from seeing it as defeatist and backward-looking. It is risk-averse, but as such it ends up throwing away the baby with the bath-water. Indeed, with all its risks – which must certainly be correctly managed – freedom of movement also offers opportunities to Europe. In our global times, we cannot afford to close ourselves off to the world: to be successfully competitive we have to manage complexity, not to erase it.

And indeed, free movement of labour has shown so far to be an important tool to decisively answer to some of the most pressing needs of the modern economy. First, it contributes to fill the needed jobs with the right people, notwithstanding their location. A Polish firefighter unable to find a job in his hometown can find one in London: in this way, Poland will have one less person unemployed and the UK will have one more fireman. Far from being a drain on public resources, it is easy to see how such a movement can help national finances, by allowing a more efficient allocation of resources.

Secondly, in an era in which job creation is seen as a utopia, free movement of labour also contribute to innovation and entrepreneurship. Not only migrants have been proven to be more prone to creating business and become entrepreneurs, but also they can foster the flux of capitals and ideas from one place to the other, thus favouring innovation. EU migrants, thanks to their multiple belonging and their ability to bridge countries and cultures, can also make easier for companies to internationalise, a factor key in determining success.

There is a third area, finally, in which free movement has value-added for the EU, and it is as a tool for external projection. Free movement is the characterising feat of the European Union, and as such is perceived by many other regional blocs around the world willing, in some measures, to follow Europe’s path, from MERCOSUR to ASEAN. We might say that free movement is the key constituent of the EU’s brand in the world, allowing it to position itself.

There is also a more practical way for the EU to make good use of free movement of individuals, and it is as an instrument of strategic partnership with neighbouring countries: allowing individuals from countries such as Tunisia, Morocco or Ukraine to travel more freely inside the EU could be a terrific way to strengthen relationships with those countries and contribute to their development. Engaging civil society first will make it possible for broader political change to happen. An example of this process is currently taking place in Turkey with the visa dialogue, started in 2013. I follow the process with interest and I believe that, in case of a positive conclusion, it will put Turkey and the EU closer than they have ever been, with consequences ranging from political stability to security and energy supply.

As all principles, it is clear that free movement has its own limits and problems, and the voices highlighting them should be listened to. But it is also true that altogether renouncing to it would be a blind choice: not only because of its prominence in making the European Union work as it does, but especially for the opportunities to competitiveness and progress it offers, both domestically and internationally. If Europe wants to be a successful actor in the global era, it cannot afford to look backward. It needs to understand its successes, see what is not working well and try to solve it. Freedom of movement can definitely be a remedy for the EU’s current problems. But all remedies have risks. It is focusing only on them, without looking at the positive sides, that transforms them in a disease.

Retrieved from The New European, issue 4

UNITEE logo

The Freedom of Movement – A core principle of European citizenship

Jo Leinen MEP, President of the European Movement International (EMI)

Following the discussions in some Member States of the European Union to limit the freedom of movement, the European Movement International (EMI) called for the safeguarding of this fundamental right for all European citizens in a resolution adopted at its Members Council on 11 April 2014 in Athens, Greece.  One year later and the freedom of movement is once again being questioned, most notably in response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the Copenhagen shootings. This worrying tendency painfully affects the very core of European citizenship.

The right to work and move freely within the Union is a fundamental right of all European citizens, going hand in hand with the free movement of goods, services and capital. Together with the European fundamental values, these four freedoms constitute the foundations of European law and must be fully respected by all Member States of the European Union and the European Economic Area (EEA).

Studies show that the free movement of persons within Europe stimulates economic growth. In contradistinction to popular beliefs, the misuse of social benefit schemes is negligible, and the benefits of immigrants to national budgets are much higher than the costs. The possibility for European citizens to seek work in other Member States without lengthy bureaucratic procedures allows businesses to react flexibly to gaps in the labour market, making use of migrants’ capacities, which leads to more job creation. Furthermore, the cross-cultural interactions immigrants bring lead to enhanced innovation. Countries that make use of these qualities of labour migrants also compete best internationally. This means that both the economy and native workers profit from growth generated by labour migrants.

Safeguards to prevent the exploitation of national social security systems are already in place at the European level, and research shows that the vast majority of migrants from Member States of the European Union and the European Economic Area move to other EU countries to work, contributing on average 34% more to the fiscal system than they take out. Labour mobility within the single market is not only key for the economic recovery and success of Europe, but also one of the most appreciated benefits of the European Union directly affecting its citizens and businesses.

Increased labour mobility means higher employment

Thanks to these positive effects of the free movement of persons, increasing intra-EU mobility is part of the solution for tackling the high unemployment rate in Europe. Increased labour mobility can mitigate imbalances between the Member States’ labour markets caused by the economic crisis as well as the ageing and shrinking workforce in some parts of Europe. While some regions in Europe suffer from extreme unemployment rates, economic progress in other regions is slowed down by a worrying shortage of skilled labour. For example, many companies in Germany, which has a historically low birth-rate, can only grow because they find skilled employees in other Member States, while many well-educated people in the Member States hit most severely by the crises are offered opportunities abroad.

Despite this, common misconceptions and anti-mobility rhetoric prevail, even amongst some political leaders. The populist rhetoric has a strong impact on the public perception of the internal mobility of European citizens, which is often perceived as a factor endangering the economic situation in the respective Member States as well the social security of their citizens. It is a case in point that the most mobile European citizens from the central and eastern European Member States are often the target of populist and xenophobic campaigns conducted by far-right parties, such as the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) and the British UK Independence Party (UKIP). Sadly, even mainstream governmental rhetoric increasingly infringes this founding principle of the European Union, as witnessed lately in the UK with Prime Minister David Cameron’s stance towards immigration and movement of EU citizens. This attitude is even less comprehensible when one considers the UK’s role as a strong advocate of the single market. After all, the single market can only exist if not only goods, services and capital can move freely, but also people.

At the same time, many people, especially those from the newer Member States, feel threatened by the anti-migrant sentiments, which discourage their ability to move Europe-wide. Even though they share the full beneficiaries of rights as European citizens, societal challenges may constitute a serious obstacle to a full democratic integration into a host community. A strongly negative political climate these days does not allow for the full exercise of rights deriving from European citizenship.

A fact based and responsible debate

Clearly some municipalities are more affected by the challenges of free movement, and may struggle to cope with a fast influx of a large number of European citizens. This, however, is no reason to dispute the principle of the free movement as such. Instead, it should be an incentive to support the individually affected municipalities in order to enable them to mitigate possible adverse effects and make full use of the potential provided by the newcomers. Furthermore, the best way to avoid poverty migration within the European Union is to reduce poverty and social exclusion in sending countries, instead of closing the borders of receiving states.

With extremist views arising in the very heart of Europe, all political actors and institutions in the European Union and its Member States must return to a fact based and responsible debate and abstain from exploiting the issue of free movement of persons for populist campaigns, which sows xenophobic and Eurosceptic sentiments.

Retrieved from The New European, issue 4

 

UNITEE logo

The positive impact of EU migrants

ECAS interview

  • “Benefit tourism” is highly topical in the EU today with the UK talking of quotas on immigrants and Germany planning to establish a six-month maximum stay for migrant jobseekers. But what exactly is “benefit tourism”?

“Benefits tourism” is a term to describe a situation where a migrant moves to a country with the sole intention of claiming social assistance there. 

It is not the same thing as “benefits fraud” which involves the making of fraudulent claims for social assistance.

  • Has this concept intensified or decreased in Europe, ten years later, after the largest enlargement of the EU in 2004?

The debate about benefits tourism is not a new phenomenon and has been a topic of controversy in the UK since at least 1994. 

The debate has intensified since the Big Bang Accession in 2004 and has spread beyond the UK to include Austria, Germany and the Netherlands.

Denmark is the latest country where the controversy has arisen, although the Confederation of Danish Employers has published its own study showing EU migrants are net contributors to the Danish economy.

  • According to your 2014 study, migrants from EU countries have made positive contributions to the UK, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. What kind of contributions?

Our study looked at the fiscal impact of EU migrants in these four EU countries.  We found that EU migrants are net contributors to the public finances in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.

This means that, on the whole, EU migrants contribute more to public finances by way of income taxes and VAT than they take out through welfare benefits and other social assistance.

We estimate that EU migrants contributed €19 bn. to public finances in Germany in 2013 and up to €25.3 bn. if we factor in consumption taxes such as VAT.

In the UK, our study shows that EU migrants contributed €2.1 bn. to the Treasury in 2013 and reaches € 7.7 bn. When taking into account VAT and other indirect taxes. 

For Austria, our estimates show that EU migrants contributed €1.7 bn. to the public purse in 2013 or €2.6 bn. if we factor in public revenue generated from consumption.                                                                                        

As for the Netherlands, the net fiscal contribution of EU migrants was €0.5 bn. and trebles to €1.5 bn. after taking into account taxes raised from consumption.      

Our estimates are based on publicly available data and information obtained through freedom of information requests.

These four countries were selected because the governments of these countries wrote a letter to the Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2013 calling for further restrictions on free movement to be imposed and citing benefits tourism as the reason for doing so.

  • What challenges did you face in defining the migrant population?

The collection of the data from the targeted countries – the UK, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands – took more time than initially anticipated due to the lack of uniform and publicly available data on migrants’ contributions and spending by nationality. This necessitated the checking of different sources and the collection of certain statistics through access to information requests to the relevant institutions in the four countries.

This is why one of the Recommendations (“Strategies”) in our Right to Move campaign is that the Member states collate better statistics on the free movement of persons.

The collection of data on the free movement of EU citizens and their family members would encourage better evidence-based policy-making by the Member States as well as the EU.

  • Is the study’s conclusion also the case with migrants from non-EU countries?

No. Our study focused solely on the fiscal impact of EU migrants and their family members.

There have been some studies looking at the impact of both EU and non-EU migrants in specific countries, such as the study undertaken by University College London in 2013.

  • You have also mentioned in the study that despite migrants being more active in the labour market and have a lower unemployment rate compared to the native population, they receive significantly less benefits and wages. So what is behind political talks, media news and researches claiming that many migrants are leeching on social welfare systems of EU states?

It is true that in general migrants are less likely to claim, and therefore receive, benefits that they are entitled to.

For government and mainstream politicians, it is likely that allegations of “benefits tourism” provide a convenient explanation for the imposition of budgetary cuts and the reduction in welfare support by the state following the economic crisis.  

For more reactionary or xenophobic parties, “benefits tourism” is used as an illustration of the negative effect that migrants have on society.

  • Why are such claims getting increasingly popular among politicians and citizens than they ought to be?

Benefits tourism provides a narrative that makes the cuts more palatable to the public. It is a time-honoured stratagem to blame migrants as a means to deflect attention away from the genuine reasons for a country’s woes, such as the mismanagement of public finances.

  • The 2013 European Commission study on the impact of intra-EU migrants on social security systems said that there is little evidence of “benefit tourism” in Europe, contrast to what some politicians and experts have claimed. Is “benefit tourism” a reality or a myth in the EU?

Individual cases of benefits tourism may exist, but they are very limited. As the recent judgment of the EU Court of Justice in the Dano case shows, such cases are often short-lived episodes because the national authorities take relatively swift action to terminate the payment of benefits. 

The scale of the problem is heavily contested.  None of the European governments which have raised the issue have been able to provide empirical evidence that quantifies the scale of the problem.

What is clear is that several independent studies have shown that, on the whole, EU migrants contribute more to the public finances than they take out.

  • Last November, the European Court of Justice has ruled that national governments have the power to exclude migrants who are non-job seekers from receiving unemployment benefits. Given this court decision, does the EU still adhere the fundamental freedom of movement of the Union?

The Dano case does not call into question the free movement of persons as enshrined by the EU Treaties. The case has only confirmed that under the free movement rules, EU citizen who do not work and are not looking for work will not be able to claim benefits unless they can first demonstrate that they have sufficient resources of their own. The European Court of Justice simply reaffirms the EU rules already in existence.

  • Ironically, the supposed “benefit tourism” crackdown last November has been supported by several EU countries (UK & Germany) who have greatly benefitted from their large migrant population. What is behind this growing fear of migrants?

As we mentioned before, blaming migrants is not a new phenomenon.  The issue is being exploited for several different political purposes. What is new is the extent to which those concerns have been brought up at European level without being substantiated by numbers and figures. Moreover, those concerns have been voiced by the  Interior Ministries of the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria, which usually are not responsible for either European migration matters nor social benefits claims. This is a worrying nationalistic trend, which goes against the rights and values that the EU has created.

  • What is the role of civil society organisations like ECAS in changing public opinion on migrants and “benefit tourism”?

Free movement is the achievement of the EU that is the most cherished by the majority of European citizens.  ECAS provides legal advice to more than 20 000 EU citizens who exercise their right of free movement in the EU annually and has an in-depth expertise in this area.

Through its work in the field of EU citizens’ rights for more than 24 years, ECAS has developed knowledge that enables the organisation to voice legitimate concerns and to put forward informed suggestions for possible solutions  to  policy-makers when free movement rights are under threat. We believe that every discussion should be based on facts and evidence rather than playing on people’s fears. Therefore we encourage evidence-based decision-making by the EU and national institutions alike.

 retrieved from The New European, issue 4.

 

DSC_0173

EPN REPORT: Reporting the movement of people. Perspectives from Europe and Asia

Report of the briefing seminar about media and migrations organised by European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) and the University of East-Anglia on May 12

DSC_0162

 On May 12, EPN attended the briefing seminar about media and  movement of people organised by the European Institute for Asian  Studies in collaboration with the University of East-Anglia. The event  took place at EIAS’ offices in Brussels.

After a short introduction by Lawrence Hardy, senior lecturer at  University of East-Anglia and chairman of the event, the panel  discussion was launched.

Alexander Egger, team coordinator at the Think Young think tank started his presentation by illustrating the work of their organisation. Its aim is to promote young people and intercultural exchanges. Through audio-visual research and the realisation of documentaries, Think Young works to capture attention of the young generations, but also of the civil society in general. An ongoing project involves the use of visual anthropology. Several short interviews with young migrants with different origins and backgrounds are conducted and then connected as a series of portraits through the realisation of a documentary. Think Young also organises other activities such as visit sessions involving European students going to Asia and vice versa. These international and intercultural experiences are always filmed by Think Young in order to be able to realise and then share documentaries through the Think Young’s YouTube page. Another interesting project developed by the think tank is the Entrepreneurship School. Within the context of this project, students in small groups are encouraged to conduct interviews with different entrepreneurs and are expected to give a presentation about their research after one week. The best presentation wins the competition. As the chairman affirmed, the positive message that the students can receive from the Entrepreneurship School experience is that “you can do whatever you want to do”; if you have the will and the motivation, everything is possible.

DSC_0195

After Egger’s presentation, Shiraz Raj, director at Alaap-International took the floor. First, Raj declared that he was very pleased to see that the seminar was dedicated to a group of students. The speaker gave a general presentation with personal insights about youth and migrations. During his speech, Raj analysed the phenomenon of youth migration from a historical point of view. He then referred to the situation of his home country, Pakistan, highlighting some current issues related to incoming and outgoing migration. Concluding his presentation, Raj pointed out that the movement of people is always presented from a negative point of view by the media. Most of the times, media privilege information about conflicts and conflictual aspects of migrations, while neglecting other the positive outcomes of the movement of people, such as the numerous cultural and political exchanges and the phenomenon of integration.

 

       DSC_0192After Raj’s presentation, Wouter Van Bellingen, Director at  Minderheden Forum took the floor. He presented the  organisation for which he works, and then he talked more  generally about the migrants’ situation in Brussels. According to  research and surveys, there are different so-called framings, in  which the Belgian population insert the migrants according to  their origins. Van Bellingen highlighted the unrecognised  importance of migrants in the development of the society and  stressed the need to change the public image of migrants through stories and personal experiences. Concluding his speech, Van Bellingen reminded the audience that diversity enriches societies.

Last but not least, Jennee Grace U. Rubrico, visiting fellow at EIAS took the floor. She presented the phenomenon of movement of people from the point of view of Asia and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Rubrico illustrated the so-called “Migrations framework”. According to her, there are two categories of stories related to migrations that media can choose to report: statistics stories and human stories. The latter are less frequent but can arouse a greater reaction among the public. An example of this kind of stories reported in the news is the narrative of human trafficking and human rights. Rubrico continued her presentation mentioning intraregional migrations in ASEAN and movement of people in the Philippines, where migrants are called the “Heroes of the economy”. The speaker concluded the panel stating that the role of the media is crucial in the case of migrations, since the audience shapes its own ideas about the issue according to how the media decide to recount the stories. For this reason, it is important to know that, depending on where the news is located in the newspapers, the story can collect more or less popularity among the public. Nevertheless, according to Rubrico the role of journalists should be less about shaping the public opinion and more about reporting facts.

 

DSC_0180

The chairman took up the subject and shared the last speakers’  vision about the role of the media. According to him, the media  should report stories in the most possible balanced way. Hardy  also made an interesting remark about the fact that a negative  framing of the phenomenon of migrations appeared to be a  common theme among all the speakers.

After the panel discussion, a short session of Q&A concluded the  seminar. Some interesting remarks were made both by the audience and the panellists. An Italian businessman highlighted the fact that migrants’ work should be revaluated by the whole society, as positive outputs are of clear evidence. For example, migrants contribute significantly to the development of their countries of origin. In this context, the transfer of technology has to be considered as a relevant positive consequence of the movement of people. Moreover, the participant declared that the enterprises created by migrants proved to be stronger than other companies, especially during the critical times of the financial crisis.

All the panellists agreed on the fact that the phenomenon of movement of people should be reviewed and reconsidered by all strata of civil society. So far, a mostly negative vision of the phenomenon has prevailed; therefore the role of the media should be to provide the audience with a variety of stories that can show the phenomenon of migrations as multifaceted and diverse.

DSC_0185                    DSC_0183

Author: Lucia Montanari