Some 3% of Europeans live permanently in another member state, but is this at the expense of the host country’s welfare system? MEPs clashed over the benefits and challenges of freedom of movement in the EU on 22 October. While some praised the advantages for job seekers and countries alike, others questioned how mobility could affect services for local people. Commissioner László Andor stressed: “Previous experience shows that people migrate mainly for jobs and not benefits.”
During the debate Mr Andor, commissioner for employment and social affairs, denied that migrants were a drain on the welfare system. A study released by the Commission in October showed that they are most likely to be net contributors to their host country’s budget.
Need for debate
Davor Ivo Stier, a Croatian member of the EPP group, said that as only a few per cent of Europeans live abroad, it was unlikely to affect the welfare system. However, he called for a discussion without taboos: “In order to regain the trust of the people and fight the economic crisis, we need to have a proper migration policy.”
Phil Bennion, a British member of the ALDE group, also called for a rigorous debate based on facts, not on misrepresentations: "The principle of free movement does not include supporting or rejecting more immigration."
Search for work
Pervenche Berès, a French member of the S&D group, stressed that many people struggled to find work where they live. “People are concerned now about health tourism and social protection and those tend to be those countries which would be the last to vote in favour of a genuine budget which would allow us to invest in the countries on the periphery of Europe to make sure people can find work there.”
Marije Cornelissen, a Dutch member of the Green group, said the way to fight exploitation was to have equal pay for equal jobs everywhere.
Bulgaria and Romania
From the end of 2013 Bulgarians and Romanians will enjoy freedom of movement within the whole of the EU. Nigel Farage, a British member of the EFD group, said: “We are not against eastern Europeans but we think that it is our right to decide and restrict who comes in to our country.”