Thursday, 5 December 2013

BRITAIN-EU: David Cameron & Romania-Bulgaria Debate

The attack on some of the EU's most popular basic rights has sparked outrage across Europe. At today meeting of EU interior ministers, Germany and the UK therefore want to bring renewed pressure to the topic.

"The commission is called upon to respond in its final written report to the legitimate concerns and problems of member states and to identify real solutions," says German Interior Ministry spokesman. From a German point of view, this refers in particular to what measures and sanctions are allowed against the "abuse of the right to free movement on the basis of European law."

British Prime Minister, David Cameron proposes new measures to address migration issues that would in effect introduce two-class EU citizenship and abolish the free movement of people across the EU. Apart from restricting access to the welfare system Cameron has this proposal about people coming to the UK., saying that Germany, Austria, Netherlands share his views.

''We must put in place new arrangements that will slow full access to each other's labor markets until we can be sure it will not cause vast migrations. There are various ways we could achieve this. One would be to require a new country to reach a certain income or economic output per head before full free movement was allowed. Individual member states could be freed to impose a cap if their inflow from the EU reached a certain number in a single year.'' David Cameron said.

The escalation in rhetoric is related to an impending deadline: Beginning on Jan. 1, 2014, there will be full freedom of movement for workers from Romania and Bulgaria. Both countries have been full European Union members since 2007, but their citizens have thus far faced restricted access to labor markets in nine other EU states. Experts believe that the feared stampede of new migrants will not materialize because the majority of people who wanted to move abroad did so a long time ago. But politicians in Western Europe are still nervous.

The UK has plans that go much further: Cameron's government also wants to curb benefits for things such as child benefits for foreigners from EU states and is discussing new rules for future candidates for EU accession. The proposal would only grant these countries' citizens access to the EU labor market once these countries had achieved a certain level of per capita income. On this, Germany's Interior Ministry only says: "We have no comment on individual national measures that would affect other member states in this context."

Austria and the Netherlands, on the other hand, appear to have dropped out of the campaign against benefit tourism. A spokesman for the Austrian Interior Ministry in Vienna said the country currently doesn't see any need for negotiations because the problem of benefit tourism doesn't exist there. Meanwhile, the Dutch labor ministry says that it will have a look at Cameron's plans, but that it doesn't currently have any of its own demands to make of the EU. The main worry in The Hague, it continues, is not abuse of social benefits, but rather the issue of whether one can guarantee equality of pay for Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has again shown that he is unable to think about European matters in the linked-up way that these issues require. Obviously scared of and driven by UKIP and his Eurosceptic backbenchers. And Cameron not only wants to be able to remove individuals but has also ideas about when free movement of people should generally be “qualified” (whatever that means – either movement is free or it is not). What Cameron wants is that the freedom to move around freely in Europe depends on the size of your wallet.

So what these proposals in effect mean is that the EU should become a space in which rich people can move around freely and use their rights as citizens and poor people can either be removed or prevented from moving in the first place. Apart from the issue of how these ideas can be brought in line with EU law (I don’t think they can without changing the treaties), these proposals are ethically so objectionable that it is mind-boggling that they come from a sitting UK Prime Minister.

Pressures resulting from migration are valid concerns and need to be addressed. But the first mistake is that they are seen as a national issue and not as a European one. This is maybe unsurprising as the European level of governance is mostly seen as part of the problem in the UK and rarely as part of the solution – this only leaves the national level. As the saying goes: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Migration has two sides of the same coin: countries gaining people and countries losing people. Migration flows might cause issues at both ends and both need to be addressed together. For the UK, studies have shown that European migration has overall been beneficial to the country. So the UK is a net winner and net loser countries should be more concerned about this.

The underlying problem of Cameron’s approach to the migration issue is much deeper. The current UK government seems allergic to any kind of European solution and the default position is national interest and national solutions.

To be clear again: if local communities come under pressure because of a sudden influx of people these are valid concerns and need to be addressed. But if you look beyond the symptoms the underlying issue is mostly too much pressure on public services like schools, hospitals and GPs. British People are not ''xenophobic'' but they are concerned for declining public services – and foreigners are often the scapegoats for this decline.

If you look at the problem this way you have a European issue. People move freely and can create local pressure on public services but there is no provision for helping local communities. If the right of free movement is a key European right, then there should be European help to address the issues exercising this right can cause.

The EU is unlikely to change to the extent Cameron wants (if treaties need to be changed every country needs to agree). So viewed from this angle, Cameron’s initiative is likely to isolate the UK even more within the EU and will further harden the fronts in an already toxic debate about Britain’s European future.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP - British Prime Minister David Cameron-Photo