The right to free movement of persons within the EU should be viewed as a major achievement of the Union and a major added value of EU membership. However, the results of this achievement – both the border-free Schengen area and the 2004 “Citizens directive” on the right of EU citizens and their family members to move and reside freely within the EU – are not loved by all in the EU, including the governments of key EU member states.
A number of recent developments can be identified to indicate that free movement risks coming under attack in the next months and years to come. First, there was the very public and tense difference of opinion over correct interpretation of free movement rights between the European Commission and France in autumn 2010. France’s argument for expelling or “strongly encouraging the voluntary return of” a large number of EU citizens of Roma origin was that they did not have the necessary financial resources to support themselves and were in some cases illegally camped.
France has not been the only country struggling with the right to free movement guaranteed in EU legislation. The Dutch government recently proposed plans to expel EU citizens and their family members who make "disproportionate claims" on the social benefit system in the Netherlands, or who have committed "very serious or repeated offences". Believing that Polish citizens residing in the Netherlands are in some part the target, many Polish politicians have deemed the plans as being discriminatory.
These are just two illustrations of the recent pressure on the right of EU citizens to freely move and reside in another Member State. It turns out that the right to move in a borderless Europe may also be in peril. The reality is that non-EU nationals, regardless if they have permission to do so, can also bypass the lack of internal border checks guaranteed by the Schengen system. This has put an added stress on free movement rights. In the wake of the perceived migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, President Sarkozy has been the most vocal in his efforts to reintroduce internal border controls but the Danes have indicated plans to reinstate its border. And so, the Commission will propose some possibility to allow once again border checks, albeit temporary and under certain circumstances.
The growth of populism and the current climate on migration is clearly affecting the spirit of free movement in the EU and this achievement is unfortunately being targeted by key Member States. Should these pressures be tolerated at the risk of chipping away at this fundamental right? Or should the EU put its energy instead in finding ways to promote the benefits of EU mobility and openness to third country labour migrants in the interest of better matching the demand and skills supply across Europe?
Faced with high unemployement rates, precarious positions and low salaries, young people have been looking for someone to blame, claiming their right to have a job. And they are not asking for any kind of job, but for a permanent, well paid position, which should also take into consideration their need for family life and leisure.
The argument may sound to someone like ‘well, our parents had it all so why shouldn’t we?’. The younger generation, which should be driving change in society, appears to be the most conservative. Analysts and policy-makers have stressed the need to adapt to a new economic and social environment, which requires different policy-mix but also a different attitude from younger people.
Ultimately, it is up to the single person to build up his/her skills’ portfolio. Skills are key in today labour market. If governments can help creating the best conditions for developing those competences, such as good education systems, they cannot replace the willingness of young people to have ambitions and build their career step by step.
Against a difficult economic environment, is there a need to reframe the right to a job? Aren’t we witnessing a unfruitful blame game from young people?
Become a member
Interested in the network?
Please click here.