Free movement is one of the most essential achievements for the entire community of the European Union and forms part of the European citizenship installed by the Maastricht Treaty.
In the eyes of European citizens, according to the Eurobarometer survey of autumn 2013, it is actually the most important right created by the European Union for 57 percent of the citizens surveyed. As one of the four fundamental freedoms of the EU, enshrined in article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, it is a cornerstone of European integration.
The last restrictions on the access to labour markets which still persisted in some member states, such as Germany and Austria, have been lifted on January 1st. Citizens of Romania and Bulgaria can now enjoy the full freedom of movement for workers within the European Union. Certain politicians and governments have uttered severe doubts and reluctance regarding the broadening of these rights to the citizens of the two member states, which both joined the European Union in 2007. Right wing populists have even asked for social benefits to be drastically limited for migrants from poorer EU member states. However, the so-called migration into the social security systems is nothing more than a malicious mock debate that wants to distract from other
problems on the national level.
In reality, poverty migration is a marginal phenomenon. As a matter of fact, only 2.8 percent of all EU citizens live in another EU member state. According to a recent study by the European Commission from October 2013, investigating the impact of free movement on Member States’ social security systems, the vast majority of migrants actually change the country in order to work or for family reasons and not in order to enjoy social benefits. Around 80 percent of them live in households where at least one family member works. Immigrants from EU countries that are not economically active make up less than 1 percent of the total population of the EU.
Contrary to what populists might suggest, most of the unemployed mobile citizens are pensioners, students or job seekers. Furthermore, as the study of the European Commission demonstrates, mobile EU citizens contribute of course to the social system. They actually pay more taxes and social contributions than they receive benefits in return. Hence, the debate about the abuse of the social system is not based on any concrete data. Additionally, no statistical correlation can be found between the generosity of the social systems in certain member states and the immigration of EU citizens into that particular country. It has to be stressed that migrants definitely do not benefit more from the services of social security than nationals of the host country.
One of the most important advantages of lifting the restrictions regarding the access to labour markets is the improvement of social and labour standards. Exploitation and oppression of workers is an attack to the right of equality and to human dignity. This problem though is a problem on national level. Illicit employment, wage and social dumping are not consistently tracked. This causes not only individual exploitation but also huge economic loss. It has to be stressed that these problems are linked to the irresponsible behaviour by some employers and possibly the poor prosecution by the Member States. Therefore, it is not a problem of the free movement of workers. The opposite is true. The full access to the labour market helps to fight exploitation and illegal work especially for poorly skilled workers, who have suffered
immensely from degrading working conditions, for example in the German meat industry. It is also beneficial to the European Union from the economical point of view. It helps for example to compensate the lack of skilled workers in one Member State by encouraging free movement of the workforce.
As a conclusion, the fundamental right of freedom of movement is neither exploited nor undermined by mobile citizens. In fact, it is an opportunity to promote essential European values as equality. Indeed, free movement is one of the most important achievements in the history of the European Union and has to be preserved as one of the key successes of European integration.