EU Citizens “in Limbo”
Citizens Involvement for Improved Implementation of the Rights of the EU Citizens Residing in another Country of the Union
Sofia, May 2015
Free movement is one of the very basic rights which EU Citizens are entitled to equally across the EU, yet tens of thousands of citizens residing in another EU country get stranded each year in the administrative and political shallows of the national interpretation and implementation of the EU regulations. EU citizens are unable to get access to public healthcare in the host country despite having paid their social security contributions at home; permanent residence permits are being denied and access to social support is being limited; many are caught in a “Catch 22” situation where health insurance is denied because of the lack of permanent residence, which in itself is unobtainable without the health insurance. National documents of education are not easily recognized in other EU countries, national drivers licenses are being challenged by local police and EU citizens are being denied equal treatment as locals in a variety of “creative” administrative ways across the continent. In many EU Countries public opinion has been turned against free movement within the EU prompting national authorities to impose further restrictions and disregard EU regulations.
Identification of the problem and the key issues addressed
Civil society in Europe has limited impact on the decision-making process regarding the implementation of the right of freedom of movement within the EU. While policy initiatives to reinforce freedom of movement are being promoted by pan-European citizen networks (see the ECAS initiative Right to Move ), there is a need to include more citizens in the member states in activism addressing European and national authorities to bring down administrative and political barriers to free movement. There is a need to raise awareness in the member states and create civil support for initiatives to improve the implementation of EU regulations without having to rely on formal EU enforcement mechanisms.
Current decision-making mechanisms
Currently failure to implement EU regulations regarding free movement leads to a lengthy infringement procedure involving the European Commission, the respective national Government and, in specific cases, the European and the national court systems. Social and healthcare issues are subject to even slower Coordination mechanism, which relies heavily on inter-government negotiations and falls outside the scope of the EU competences.
Biggest obstacle, strongest opposing views
The biggest obstacles to the implementation the rights of free movements lie with the national authorities of EU countries unwilling to implement EU regulations and the lack of legal mechanisms on the EU level to enforce the implementation of these regulations. National governments yield to domestic political pressure to limit immigration from the EU. Public opinion in some of the member states is ill-informed about the pro’s and con’s of EU migration and falls easy victim to the populist appeal of anti-immigrant parties. National governments adopt the anti-immigrant rhetoric and become the main obstacles to the implementation of the free movement rights. Civil society in the member states is unable to effectively challenge the anti-immigrant rhetoric and puts little pressure for change. Pro-immigration initiatives face strong political and media opposition. Despite strong evidence of the opposite, Internal EU migration is being presented as a threat rather than an opportunity for economic development and as a strain rather than an additional reinforcement of national social security systems.
What policy change we suggest and why
U-Impact aims to address the insufficient public support for more decisive enforcement of free movement rights by raising awareness about the benefits of EU migration, coordinating citizen pressure action aimed at national and European authorities and actively campaigning European Parliament to increase its efforts with the European Commission and the European Council on the enforcement of EU rules on free movement. U-Impact aims at increased citizen involvement both on national and on European level in the decision-making process about internal migration in the EU. The initiative aims at empowering civil society, including representatives of the migrant communities in the member states to effectively work for the fair implementation of EU free movement rules and maximize the benefits of free movement on the welfare of European states.
If unchallenged, the current practice in the EU member states to increase administrative and political obstacles to free movement will lead to further deterioration and will undermine free movement, which the majority of EU citizens perceive as the main advantage of the European project. One alarming example is the policy change outlined by British prime-minister David Cameron that EU nationals should have a job offer from an UK employer prior to their arrival in the UK in order to be allowed to work, which goes against the very core values of free movement.
Given enough mechanisms for participation and armed with a sound public outreach strategy civil society is able to address effectively even the most controversial policy issues. One recent example is the referendum in Ireland, which helped overcome a deeply entrenched conservative attitude toward same sex relationships. The “yes” campaign focused on citizen equality, a basic human rights argument, which helped overcome the opposition of the “traditional family values” argument. One lesson that the free movement campaign may learn from the Irish example is that it has to win the hearts and minds of the citizens of the Union first before pressing for infringement procedures and court rulings.
In the specific area of free movement, good examples may be found even in the countries with the strongest anti-immigrant political rhetoric: in 2013 in the UK city of Southampton the Young Entrepreneur of the Year South Coast Business Award went to 22 year old Polish owner of a marketing agency and the roughly 25,000 Polish citizens living in the city are considered a blessing for the local economy. EU citizens are organizing themselves across Europe to promote and protect their rights, often with the help of local human rights organizations. Examples include the Goteborg EU migrants group, the „Asociación búlgara de integración y ayuda” in Spain and many others.
Finally, there’s sufficient evidence that EU migration is good for the economies of the recipient countries, but that evidence is little known to the majority of their citizens. Raising awareness through new and social media despite the traditional media’s opposition is an area in which civil society is usually very good at. There’s a need to initiate action leading to increased citizen awareness about the realities of internal EU migration, which will help overcome the traditional conservative opposition and populist politics based on it.
In the current political and economic situation in many EU countries where anti-immigrant politics are on the rise this policy initiative is certain to meet strong resistance. It is hard to argue with the unemployed that allowing more migrant workers is a good move or with pensioners that sharing social benefits with newcomers from the EU will make them better off, so the policy initiative has to be balanced, realistic and sensible and make sure that the enforcement of free movement rights is not abused for social benefits tourism or illegal low-wage employment. A part of the policy initiative has to be addressed to the decision-makers in the net immigrant countries of the EU, which should make sure their citizens are well aware not only of their rights, but also of their obligations as EU citizens.
Conclusion and recommendations
The purpose of this policy initiative is to:
- increase public support for more decisive enforcement of free movement rights;
- raise awareness about the benefits of EU migration;
- coordinate citizen pressure action aimed at national and European authorities;
- actively campaigning European Parliament to increase its efforts with the European Commission and the European Council on the enforcement of EU free movement rules;
- increase citizen involvement both on national and on European level in the decision-making process about internal migration in the EU;
- empowering civil society, including representatives of the migrant communities in the member states to effectively work for the fair implementation of EU free movement rules and maximize the benefits of free movement on the welfare of European states
The major stakeholders of this initiative are:
- civil society organizations, including representatives of the migrant communities in the member states;
- EU citizens at large;
- national authorities;
- EU institutions
Recommend U-Impact follow up activities:
- One of the national debates of U-Impact will be dedicated to this issue, it will review and adopt the final version of the policy proposal;
- An action plan will be agreed upon with the U-Impact partners;
- ProInfo will lead a national campaign and will coordinate with the U-impact members the international campaign on the issue;
- Member of European Parliament will be addressed by the U-Impact members to initiate discussion involving representatives of the civil society.