EU migration and EU Welfare State

We usually have two possible ways to represent the current economic crisis. Generally speaking, some newspapers tend to draw the lack of financial union at the European level as the original foundation of the national bankruptcy and as the first source of the growing Euroscepticism. However, this is just one side of the coin. I would like to claim as alternative explanation that the EU institutions and the Member States are suffering from a minor identity trade off. By stating that, I am moving the attention from an economic perspective to an anthropological one. 

In fact, directing our concern towards the need to relocate the European identity in modern times, we can easily explore how the current crisis is linked to a social anxiety towards the definition of the concept of European citizenship and how some basic rights (that originally belong to the French revolution) are threatened by the need to restructure the Welfare State. First of all, I want to highlight the fact that some Member States are potentially questioning the fundamental rule of the European democratic state: all EU citizens are equal. Let us see some statistical insights.

According to EUROSTAT, the number of EU citizens using their rights to free movement over the past ten years has increased from about 1.8% to around 3%. On the basis of an EU population of 506 million people, this means that about 17.2 million people are living in an EU Member State other than that of their nationality. It is also interesting to note how the highest number of departures overlaps the latest EU enlargements towards the East. This trend tells us that there is an increasing number of EU citizens willing to see their new EU world.  

Main countries of origin of non-nationals, EU-27, 2010 (million)  

What is the correlation of these migration trends with the role of the Welfare State in the current economic crisis?
According to the Directive on movement of EU citizens and to the Regulation on coordination of social security in 2004 all EU citizens have the right to move and reside, acquiring rights the longer they stay in a host member state. The problem is that each of these rights heavily impacts on the national budget. This situation often leads to treating EU citizens less equally than local nationals. 

To this regards, Elspeth Guild states there are three fundamental conditions to gradually acquire the EU rights. As a starting point, we have the short-term visas. For the first three months there are no special restrictions for EU citizens to move and reside on the national territory. However, the most important concern usually is: what is the fate for those people who reside for three months in a Member State, then go to another Member State and finally come back? Do they fall under the administrative responsibility of the first Member State or not? 

After three months, if EU citizens want to continue to reside on the national territory, they need to exercise an economic activity or be self-sufficient. Nevertheless, in that particular case, what is more important is that once an EU citizen is recognized as a worker, he is entitled to have full access to all social benefits. This binds the national government to arrange a social security net both for national and EU citizens who are also in minor employment (for example, because they are employed as part-time workers). Finally, the permanent residence status comes after five years of being economically active or self-sufficient. Notwithstanding, since the acquisition of the permanent status happens on automatic basis, the EU Member States often are not aware of their responsibility to ensure the social benefits. 

What we are saying is particularly true for that kind of migration process that we can call “unskilled migration”. However, over the last years of economic crisis we are witnessing the establishment of new selective programmes that aim to support a new form of migration, that is, the so-called “skilled migration”. Skilled migration is becoming the first governmental instrument that the major policy makers can adopt to target the supply of new migrants. According to IOM, skilled migrants are perceived as less labour market dependent and more labour market ready. 

Each selective process assumes the existence of particular selectors. In this respect, the role of sub-national governments, such as the Provincial Nominee Programme in Canada, and supranational institutions, such as the European Union, is dramatically increasing. These new corporatist actors usually select new migrants by evaluating the potential “human capital” of those people. With human capital I mean a list of desirable characteristics, such as education, age, language, work experience. In fact, some recent reforms in Canada are highlighting the importance of “language” (above all English as lingua franca) and other “educational requirements”. As a result, policy makers are imposing the definition of human capital as “watchdog” against the massive migration flows. Otherwise, sometimes the system relies on the possibility to choose workers directly on the basis of employers’ needs. Finally, according to Kofman this process of human calibration seems to be affected by gender: being classified as skilled migrants remains a male prerogative. 

Regarding the relationship between skilled migration and salary, Lowell and Avato have demonstrated the importance of the concept of “permanent migration”. In other words, for those migrants converting their temporary visas to a permanent status there is often a salary reward. Skilled migrants tend to increase their earnings over the long period. 

It should be clear now how skilled and unskilled migrations have no ambivalent character. They are just the reflection of political choices at supranational level. They are telling us that despite the right to free movement the EU institutions should theoretically provide, being a migrant today is more difficult than in the past. Internal migration is becoming unequal and extremely selective and most of the responsibilities should be attributed to the political failure to reconvert efficiently the Welfare State. In this respect, the Welfarian emergency is deeply related to the future of the European identity

Edited by Laura Davidel
Photo credits: Statistics ForeignersCarlos Gardel/ Shutterstock