By Martin Seeleib-Kaiser, Oxford Institute of Social Policy, University of Oxford
Intra-EU migration has significantly increased since the turn to the 21st century as a consequence of economic disparities in the EU associated with its enlargement and the economic crisis in a number of southern European member states.
Subsequently “welfare tourism” and “poverty migration” have become buzzwords in some EU countries.
Yet increasing free movement within the EU has been one of the core reasons for creating the internal market and the internal market not only allows the free of movement of capital, goods and services, but also of EU citizens, including jobseekers.
The concept of EU citizenship was formally institutionalised through the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and builds on the freedom of movement of workers, which has been one of the four core freedoms of European integration since its very beginning.
Under specific conditions EU migrant citizens have social rights; only those with the legal status of ‘worker’ have the same social rights as national citizens from the very first day of their residence in another member state based on the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
According to the Freedom of Movement Directive jobseekers can theoretically export their unemployment benefits for the duration of three months from the country of origin to the member state of destination.
The idea behind this policy was to enhance labour mobility and make the internal market more dynamic, whilst at the same time to avoid jobseekers from becoming a ‘burden’ to the country of destination.
Accordingly, jobseekers are not entitled to social assistance in the destination country within the first three months of residence. However, if jobseekers lack comprehensive unemployment benefits from their country of origin, savings or support from family and friends, they are very likely to be at the risk of homelessness and exploitation in the destination country.
This institutional arrangement creates a two-tiered EU citizenship: On the one hand freedom of movement for the privileged, i.e. those who are able to secure a job in the destination country in advance and those who are able to ‘export’ relatively generous unemployment benefits, enabling them to search for a job in the ‘host’ country, and on the other hand for those EU migrant jobseekers without an advance job offer and insufficient means to support them during the job search.
The latter are very likely to be young southern Europeans or EU migrant citizens from Central and Eastern European countries, who are often wrongly categorized as ‘benefit tourists’ or ‘poverty migrants’, despite the fact that they are jobseekers.
In order to correct this fundamental inequality in relation to EU citizenship and associated social rights, member states should consider establishing a European Minimum Income Scheme (EMIS), providing a means-tested benefit to EU migrant citizens without sufficient financial means during the first three months.
An EMIS benefit for single mobile jobseekers should be set at approximately 45 per cent of the national poverty threshold (50% of median income) of the respective destination country, which is approximately the level of the national social assistance benefits in diverse welfare states such as Germany, Sweden and the UK.
EMIS could be funded through a European Citizenship and Mobility Fund (ECMF), designed to support EU migrant citizens and communities affected by intra-EU migration.
EMIS, and the ECMF more generally, would provide support to EU migrant citizens in need as well as those communities that are impacted by intra-EU immigration.
The level of funding for a member state from the ECMF should be determined by the annual net number of newly arrived EU migrant citizens.
An ECMF could be constructed as part of the EU structural funds, as it would not only support EU migrant citizens in need, but also provide relief to communities severely affected by the freedom of movement.
In addition to creating more equal opportunities for EU citizens, EMIS would also support the aim of creating an economically more competitive Union with a common and more fully integrated labour market.
Finally, an EMIS may contribute to furthering a common identity and sense of solidarity within the EU.