There is deep concern in many European countries, not least my own, over the immigration issue. Most immigration comes from outside Europe and from areas with markedly different cultures, lifestyles, and attitudes as well as significantly lower standards of living.
This is not just a practical matter of pressure on public services and housing or of the impact on job opportunities, important as these aspects are. It is also about the future cohesion and security of our countries. Our settled immigrant populations are among the most outspoken critics of the laissez-faire policy of uncontrolled immigration, usually pursued by socialist governments, and
the failure to more actively integrate newcomers.
There is the separate but related issue of EU migration based on the “free movement” principle, which German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has reportedly said “could not be changed or renegotiated”. The reality is that “free movement” is not an immutable principle. It is a policy which has been subject to continuous redefinition by the EU in its various embodiments,
from the very start.
In 1951, the EU’s precursor, the European Coal and Steel Community enabled workers in the coal and steel industries to move countries.Six years later, the Treaty of Rome abolished discrimination between workers from different EEC member states.Then in 1968, the EEC allowed spouses and children to accompany workers.
In 1971, EEC migrant workers were granted the right to the same benefits as nationals of the host country. The most fundamental change came in 1992, when the Treaty of Maastricht created the idea of “EU citizenship” and provided that “every citizen of the Union shall have the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States.” Since then, EU legislation has continued to break down restrictions on free movement. For example, the 2004 “Free Movement Directive” prohibits member states from expelling EU citizens unless they are an “unreasonable burden” on the host country’s benefitsystem.
Clearly, the free movement policy allows great scope for change, whichuntil now, regrettably, has always been in one direction. However, I doubt that many people in Britain or many other countries gladly regard themselves as “citizens of the European Union.” So today, there is demand in the UK and elsewhere for a narrower concept of free movement. This might include further restrictions on access to benefits when no contributions have been made, and easier deportation and exclusion of criminals.
In effect there should be a return to first principles -qualified free movement for those who work or create jobs, obey the law, and are not an unfair burden on a country’s welfare system. As Prime Minister David Cameron has recently commented, “There are many British people who take advantage of going to work elsewhere and Britain has benefited from people with skills coming to Britain and contributing to our economy”. What is not acceptable is for people to move countries to lead a life of crime, to beg, or to live on welfare. The EUmust come to terms with this. Geoffrey Van Orden is Conservative MEP for the East of England. He is Vice Chairman of the European Conservatives & Reformists group (ECR). He can
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