Briefing Influence

  • The authors were first to float the idea of new EU rules introducing a three year qualification period for in-work benefits, putting free movement in Europe on a fairer footing but allowing the principle – and its benefits – to stand.
  • The proposal has drawn cross-party consensus in the UK and formed the central plank of David Cameron’s speech in November 2014 on reforming EU free movement.

3 November 2014

A new EU Directive on Citizenship and Integration: how would it work?

The inconsistencies and perverse incentives created by the EU’s current rules on migrants’ access to the welfare systems of their host countries has undermined public confidence in free movement and has left people in many EU member states feeling that the system is out of control. This can be corrected by amending existing EU legislation, without the need to change the EU Treaties.

The authors propose a new EU Directive on Citizenship and Integration, which would fundamentally change EU rules on access to benefits. The Directive would be 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 country’s own citizens and nationals of other EU member states.

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 country. However, 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.

The authors’ proposal would kill three birds with one stone

Existing EU rules make life difficult for governments who want to have active employment policies, since subsidies or benefits to facilitate domestic employment can end up going to EU migrants – effectively subsidising low-paid or low-skilled migration. The authors’ proposal would stop this, and would also rid the current framework of much of its complexity, with all the possibilities for abuse and misunderstanding this can generate.

Furthermore, the proposal 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 country. 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.

In other words, the authors’ proposal would kill three birds with one stone:

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 reduce the number of EU migrants coming to the UK and boost public confidence in free movement.

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, and does not require a complicated EU treaty change.

Because of that, this proposal could win support in other European capitals, including, importantly, Berlin.

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