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Monday, July 30, 2012

Is Spain tougher than the UK on EU immigration?

The Mail on Sunday yesterday run with a story under the headline, "Cameron urged to follow Spain's new edict: You can't move here without enough money in the bank", suggesting that the British government should follow Spain's recent example and adopt a tougher line on migrants from other member states.

As so often with EU-related immigration stories, this one can be traced back to the 2004 EU Free Movement Directive - which we discussed at length in our briefing on EU asylum and migration policy, available here. The Directive sets out the foundations for one of the EU's key pillars - freedom of movement for people. However, contrary to popular belief, the Directive is not a free for all. It gives member states the right to require citizens from other EU countries who want to live/work in that country for more than three months to prove that they can support themselves, i.e. that they have a job or enough money to avoid becoming a burden on the state.

Now, the Spanish government has recently adopted a new law after having its wrist slapped by the Spanish Court of Auditors. The Court had warned that Spain's liberal transposition of the Free Movement Directive "has implied a serious economic loss to Spain, especially because of the impossibility of guaranteeing the refund of expenditure caused by the provision of health and social services to European citizens." This is what the preamble of  the new law makes clear that Spain wants to address.

The new Spanish law specifies that, when a national of another EU member state decides to register so that he can stay in Spain beyond the initial three months, the person will have to provide evidence that he is financially self-sufficient and has a sickness insurance.

As we understand it, all of these requirements do already form part of the UK's Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 and a similar procedure to that proposed in Spain takes place in the UK via the-called 'right to reside' test, which essentially involves verifying that nationals of another EU member state who want to stay in the UK for more than three months are able to support themselves.

The Commission has, counter-productively, taken the UK to Court over the 'right to reside' test, since it considers it discriminatory. However, for most practical purposes, the British test mirrors the Spanish one - although the one envisaged by the new Spanish law appears to cover different types of social benefits than the British one.

This in turn brings us back to the rather opaque distinction EU law makes between 'social assistance' and 'social security' benefits, which is one of the main aspects of the dispute between the European Commission and the Department for Work and Pensions (see our report for some more background).   

So Spain is actually more or less doing what the UK already does. Still, it goes to show why, as we argued in our recent briefing, this issue needs to be managed far better if the benefits of free movement is to be maintained amid public scepticism.


Rik said...

Another EU position that is ready for attack.

Should be clear to anybody that having free travel between countries where GDPs differ that much and the richer part having a welfarestate with payments considerably higher than wages in the poor part is a recipe for disaster.
Already Lao Tze, 2500 years ago understood this, but apparently the policymakers in the EU have a little catch up to do with their reading.

Also the fact that were it not for Mr Widers's influence on the Dutch government Bulgaria and Rumenia would most likely already have been in Schengen is a bloody shame.
If you want populists in power this is the way forward.

The good thing for Cameron is that he will have support from basically all contributing countries. All North Western countries are eiter immigration sceptic or are under pressure of populists (and probably glad if somebody else would solve this not so pol cor issue for them). He can this way try to gain support for a full treaty reneg.

A second point with the budget. Where imho he should create a position that the UK can pull out the financial plug during this term. People tend to be more cooperative if you can cut of their finances. A fall back position of Euro-exit (plus subsequent disaster for the Euro, as markets will think it more likely the whole thing is falling apart), plus cutting of finances will likely make the other side more cooperative.

Bugsy said...

I had a long email correspondence with Mr Lansley who is emphatic that we do not require and while he is Minister, will not require Health Insurance for any foreign national coming to the UK.