Just one day after the government sets out its proposals to continue to bear down on immigration in the Queen’s speech the European Commission comes up with a set of proposals which are intended to pull policy in another direction altogether.
The government’s plans are informed by the view that migrants, particularly those from other EU member states, are attracted to the UK by the level of social welfare support available in this country. The solution to this imagined problem is to hack away at the qualifications that need to be met to access Job Seekers Allowance, free treatment from the NHS, and assistance from legal aid in civil disputes. They even hope for a chilling effect on the availability of accommodation in the private rented sector which will come when lettings agency start demanding to see passports.
In the heart-of-heart, even the most ardent supporter of the coalition administration knows that this will have no impact on the numbers coming to the UK. Migrants are attracted to this country for one principle reason – and that revolves around the jobs and the business opportunities which are seen to exist in the free-for-all hurly-burly of UK markets. No Romanian, Italian, German, or whoever, will be deterred by the loss of opportunities to register with GPs for treatment on the NHS as long as they feel a job in Britain will secure better prospects than they have in their own country.
More rights, better migration
Meanwhile, the European Commission, which is obliged to look at the situation from the standpoint of an authority charged with the job of getting the single market up and running again to support economic growth across the continent, has arrived at the opposite conclusion as to what needs to be done about migration between member states.
In the Commission’s view a big part of the problems which exist across the European region at the present time would be addressed if citizens could be persuaded to make more use of the rights which have been bestowed on them through the agency of the EU over the course of the last two decades.
The argument here is that people should not remain in places where their prospects for the future are bleak simply because their residency entitles them to a degree of welfare support which compensates to a small degree for the hardship they are suffering. Of course, one way of addressing this would be to simply abolish all these rights and entitlements and thereby force, under the threat of starvation, entire populations to ‘get on their bikes’ to look for opportunities further afield.
The Commission proposes another route, which is to make a larger portion of the entitlements people have in their home states portable, so that they can take the social security they have secured in one place to another, where there are greater opportunities for jobs and businesses.
What the Commission calls for is new 12 policies in six areas where action is needed. Examples of these are:
- Removing obstacles for workers, students and trainees in the EU by extending the right of jobseekers to receive unemployment benefits from their home country while they are looking for a job in another EU member state beyond the current mandatory three months to increase the mobility of workers; Cutting red tape in the Member States
- Cutting red tape for businesses by facilitating the acceptance of identity and residence documents when citizens want to travel or have to prove their identity in another EU country, including through optional uniform European documents that citizens could use in all EU countries;
- Protecting the more vulnerable in the EU by developing an EU disability card, and strengthening citizens’ procedural rights;
- Eliminating barriers to shopping in the EU by improving rules to settle cross-border disputes over small amounts when buying products online or in another EU country;
- Promoting the availability of targeted and accessible information about the EU by making e-training tools available to local administrations and providing citizen-friendly information about who to turn to solve their problems.
- Strengthening citizens’ participation in the democratic process.