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Friday, December 13, 2013

It's not just the UK that's losing patience with the Commission over access to welfare

Viviane Reding
In a few weeks time, the transitional restrictions on citizens from Bulgaria and Romania gaining full access to all EU member states' labour markets will expire. As we have covered in our press summaries and on our blog, it's not just in the UK where this has led to political upheaval.

Last week, European Commissioner Viviane Reding finally responded to concerns expressed by the UK, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands back in April about benefit tourism in the EU. Although she was right when saying that “free movement is a right to free circulation; it is not a right to migrate in member states' social security systems”, her actual policy proposals aren't terribly convincing.

In order to crack down on the abuse, the Commission proposes:

- a handbook to help local authorities spot sham marriages as well as guidelines on habitual residency, which would determine the extent to which a person is entitled to draw benefits in a host EU country (in other words, more intervention into national policy)

- helping local authorities understand EU free movement rules

- topping up the European Social Fund

That throwing more money at the problem isn't going to improve things shouldn't need to be said, especially given the sorrow state of the EU budget. The UK, is according to EU officials, "very disappointed with the scale and ambition", while German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich reacted by saying, "To launch discussions or to develop brochures won't suffice".

Hans-Peter Friedrich
What Germany will do next most likely depends on how smoothly the "second accession" of Romania and Bulgaria in January goes, but in any case the German coalition deal doesn't leave any room for doubt that it is determined to do something about it if problems arise.

Friedrich has threatened to work with other governments “outside the structures of the EU” if the Commission doesn’t respond adequately to concerns about welfare tourism - another signal that Germany is ready to resort to intergovernmentalism as it has signalled it will do with the banking union, at least for now.

Dutch Interior Minister Lodewijk Asscher, who has been making many similar noises to the UK and Germany, thinks that more Romanians and Bulgarians will come to the Netherlands than has been predicted. He said, "The official predictions are low, but earlier predictions weren't correct either."

He added that he would have liked to extend restrictions for Romania and Bulgaria, but "if you have an agreement with other countries, you should stick to it". However, local authorities in the Dutch cities of Rotterdam and The Hague are reportedly ready to defy EU law by denying tax or social security numbers to Romanians or Bulgarians who fail to pass housing and employment checks.

Meanwhile, today, UK Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has announced that new migrants will be asked to prove that their English language skills will be no barrier to them finding employment in Britain, under plans to strengthen the UK’s Habitual Residence/Right to Reside Test. The Dutch coalition agreement already states that "Individuals who cannot speak Dutch will not receive social assistance benefit. This principle will be applied consistently: to EU nationals, third-country nationals and Dutch nationals."

The European Commission's run-ins with the UK, over the 'right to reside test', and Germany, following which Friedrich accused Commissioner Reding of "ignorance", highlight the level animosity its approach has caused.

The EU Treaty doesn't need to be re-written to deal with this issue. We've made a few suggestions here that the Commission would do well to engage with it if it really cares about maintaining support for free movement in Europe.


Anonymous said...

Quite frankly, who cares what the European Commission feels or thinks?

I, and nobody that I know, have ever had a vote to elect them.

The people of the UK are soon going to be in open revolt against this out-of-touch and nasty organisation that sooner or later is going to bankrupt its very own members.

Yes to free trade, friendship and self-determination. No to sovereignty and everything else that they stand for.


Jesper said...

Throwing more money on the problem is easy enough, the question is who provides the money?

At a glance it looks like net-contributors would receive money (less the administrative cut retained by EU-institutions) they'd paid into the EU-budget. Bribing nations with their own money?
It is working in other areas so I'm not surprised it is tried here as well. Doubters might want to have a look at what structural funds can be used for in net-contributing countries.

Denis Cooper said...

Still on the secondary issue of access to benefits, when the real issue is why these foreigners were given the automatic legal right to come to my homeland in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I'm having a hard time figuring out why a Eurofascist group as Open Europe would be pretending to find open borders and unrestricted access to welfare a bad idea.

Any ideas, anyone?

Anonymous said...

Maybe Open europe are finally seeing what just about everyone who isn't a self serving politician have seen for a long time.

christhai said...

It is interesting what has happened these past two years.

The EU was refused extra budget money. (It got the money but by sneak not agreement)

The Strasbourg Parliament is under serious threat.

In nearly all of the nations of the EU there have been very major anti-EU demonstrations and protests.

The EU have made stupid mistakes like the "Bail-In" thefts on Cyprus and now seek to build these 'robbery rules' into EU legislation.

The fiasco over Libya, Mali and Syria.

Gross but stealthy interventions in the nations' Defence.

More billions "lost or stolen" no audit.

EU rules under fire related to Immigration.

We could be seeing the end of the EU as a law making organisation and the beginning of real and really beneficial Inter-Government co-operation.

Anonymous said...

It is strange that this unelected failed politician redding received notice 8 months ago about concerns, but waits until it is only weeks away before she responds in a manner that says absolutely nothing. It is time to get rid of her and the other political failures that make up the commission entirely.

E.M. Lavalle said...

Your review of this problem is superficial, at best. The issue of fraudulent welfare access is a signfiicant one in every state which has social benefits. Some times it is just persons pursuing a vocation of crime, but often it is the desparation of economic refugees. However, the idea of a social Europe with economic justice, equality and shared responsibility is a hallmark of a higher level of social and political maturity. Obviously I do not agree with the narrower perspective celebrated on Open Europe. Regards, E.M. Lavalle


Is there any remaining reader who still thinks that being in the EU is even remotely acceptable, let alone a good idea?

John Harmer said...

THe British are up to their usual tricks of moaning about everything.THey cannot understand that bit is impossible to keep 500million happy all the time.

David Cameron know that the EU
referndum will spit the Conservatigve party whatever the result'
So he is working to lose the next British General election.
He should be given every possible help