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HMG Competence review

In compiling our responses to your questionnaire, we have sought to gather the views of members and supporters of New Europeans (who are generally non-British EU citizens resident in the UK and UK nationals who have first-hand experience of living and working in other EU countries).   Views have been canvassed at an open meeting of around 80 members and supporters, in social media debate, and in the sharing of draft responses.  Our responses reflect the outcome of that process, and include specific issues that individual members have experienced in exercising their free movement rights.

1) What evidence is there that the ability to exercise free movement rights in another member state impacts either positively or negatively on a) UK nationals; and b) the UK as a whole?

a) The number of UK nationals who do exercise their rights to free movement (currently some 1.5 million[1], and many more millions since those rights have been available) is evidence that there is positive value to them as individuals, to their families (in terms of financial gain, social, cultural and sometimes health enrichment), and to the UK businesses for which many of them work. Without those free movement rights, the difficulty and cost of their living and working in other EU member states would be considerably higher such that a significant proportion would be unable or unwilling to make the effort.

b) Our members tell us that the benefit accruing to the UK as a whole is greater the more those rights are exercised:

  • UK businesses often feel better able to export to other EU countries if UK nationals employed by them are based in those countries;
  • UK businesses are more willing and better able to invest in those countries (often more profitably than in the UK) if UK nationals are based there to oversee those investments;
  • UK nationals in other EU countries benefit the UK financially, through remittances; economically, through lower unemployment; and culturally, when they return enriched to the UK.
  • UK students benefit from being able to study at universities in other EU countries (the fact that so many choose to do so rather than continue their studies in the UK is evidence of their perception of benefit).
  • UK universities are able to attract students from across the EU.  This is of benefit to those universities in terms of academic standing and opportunities for collaboration, and to the nation in terms of added value to the economy, reputation, as well as spreading knowledge of English and adherence to British culture and values. Those students are then available to UK businesses to employ in their investments in the student’s home country.
  • Non-British EU nationals exercising their free movement rights in the UK benefit the nation in any number of ways:
    • financially, from higher tax revenues;
    • economically, filling skills gaps, boosting drive and aspiration, and through the keener competition deriving from increased labour mobility;
    • internationally, through knowledge and reputation of the UK;
    • socially, though their participation in the UK’s civic society, educational system and family life;
    • culturally, from greater diversity and the boost to UK achievement in the arts and sports (eg Lithuanian world champion swimmer Ruta Meilutyte, living and training in Plymouth).

There is evidence that free movement throughout Europe boosted GDP by 0.4%, and that the inflow of labour from A8 countries led to the UK’s GDP being boosted by 1.2%, during the period 2004-09. This increase occured because, with more EU workers, the UK was able to produce additional goods and services that we would not otherwise have been able to produce[2].

2) What evidence is there that EU competence in this area makes it easier for UK nationals to work, access benefits and access services in another member state?

Our members tell us that without the treaty right to live and work in another EU country it would be much more difficult (costly, time-consuming and frequently legally impossible) to work and to access benefits and services to do so.   Prompted by protectionist motives, each EU country would be able to impose its own rules and procedures (eg based on proficiency in the local language) without challenge from a higher authority (eg the European Commission or ECJ).  They might favour domestic suppliers over imports; put up barriers to FDI; impose obstacles to the employment of foreign workers, to the establishment of a business which might compete with domestic rivals, or to the acquisition of leave to remain; deny access to benefits and services free to domestic nationals at the point of delivery; and deny the right to vote in local elections.   British Embassies in the EU are often called upon to take up such cases on behalf of UK nationals.

3) What evidence is there of the impact on welfare provision and access to public services in the UK

The evidence we have suggests, to the contrary, that non-British EU nationals make proportionately less demand on welfare provision and public services in the UK than other nationals. Most are of an age that has less need for health and other social services. They are often unaware of the existence of these services or of how to access them. Most do not remain in the UK long enough to develop conditions that might require such support[3].

4) What evidence is there that a) more EU action; or b) less EU action would improve the situation of UK nationals exercising free movement rights in other member states? What obstacles, if any, do UK nationals face when exercising their free movement rights in other member states?

Our members believe that EU competence in this area should be strengthened to make freedom of movement easier (less expensive and time-consuming) and to bolster enforcement of existing rights.

We have listed typical obstacles in answer to Q 2 above.   Amongst our members are UK nationals living in another EU country who have experienced denial of the right to establish a business, to acquire residency/permanent leave to remain, to access welfare benefits, to access public services at the same cost as domestic nationals, or to vote in local or European elections.

The case law of the ECJ contains numerous examples of UK nationals seeking legal redress to denial of their free movement rights (eg denial of the right to set up English language schools in Italy). Legal action is dauntingly expensive.   Simpler means of redress should be available via the European Commission.

There should be standardized requirements for obtaining the necessary permits for living in another EU country regardless of habitual residency tests which vary from country to country within the EU.

There should be more EU action to facilitate the voting rights of EU citizens.

  • EU citizens from 24 member states living in the UK face more bureaucratic procedures in order to register to vote in European elections in the UK than do citizens from the UK, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta.
  • UK citizens living in other European countries lose their voting rights in UK elections after 15 years, an arbitrary cut-off date.  Our members have found it difficult to register to vote in European elections in other EU countries.

5. What evidence do you have of the impact on the UK economy of EU competence on the free movement of persons?

The benefits to the UK economy described above are evidenced by, eg Tesco’s growing investment and high returns in several other EU countries.   As managers of their investment in those countries Tesco deploy both UK nationals and local nationals who have been educated and trained in the UK.   Tesco’s workforce in the UK comprises a high proportion of non-British EU nationals.

6. What is the impact of this area of EU competence on employment sectors, such as “distribution, hotels and restaurants”, “banking and finance”, agriculture, or other sectors?

Our experience is that the labour mobility underpinned by free movement rights for EU citizens benefits the three UK sectors you list by supplying a source of skilled labour at more competitive prices that might otherwise not be available.   UK businesses will benefit more economically the bigger the pool of labour on which they are able to draw.

7. What evidence do you have of the impact on UK nationals and non-UK nationals in the UK in terms of employment opportunities, wages, employment conditions or other factors?

8. How would these sectors and UK nationals benefit from the EU doing a) more or b) less in this area?

Our members believe that by doing more, UK nationals in other EU countries could make greater use of (and benefit from easier enforcement of) the rights laid down in the Treaties.

By doing less, those rights would be degraded and their enforcement further hindered.

9. What evidence is there of the extent to which the current EU provisions on social security coordination are necessary to facilitate an effective EU labour market?

Our members believe that an effective EU labour market is one in which labour moves freely around the EU.   It follows that where social security provisions are not coordinated between member states, labour mobility will be frustrated.   That degrades the EU labour market.

10. What evidence is there that changes to the current balance of competences are needed to ensure that rules on social security coordination do not have a disproportionate impact on the UK benefits system, or undermine public confidence in that system

Our members ask where the evidence is to be found that EU social security provisions have a “disproportionate impact” on the UK benefits system?  Or that they “undermine public confidence” in that system?  The government could act to bolster any apparent undermining of public confidence by making more use of the evidence referred to in answer to Q 3 above.

11. What evidence do you have of the impact of EU competence in this area on immigration in the UK?

Our members believe that EU citizens moving between one country and another in the EU should not be termed “migrants”.     UK nationals living in other EU countries are rarely if ever referred to as migrants; but Poles or other Central Europeans living in the UK are frequently termed “East European immigrants”.

EU competence in the field of asylum and immigration has provided the UK with several layers of protection against illegal immigration by non-EU nationals which it would not otherwise enjoy.  For example, the UK’s first line of defence has moved thousands of miles out to the external Schengen border; and the Dublin II Convention requires asylum applications to be considered in the EU country of first arrival - which is less likely to be the UK.

12. What evidence do you have of the impact on local communities and their economies, including rural areas?

The experience of our members is that there has been an impact, and that this impact has been beneficial.

13. What evidence is there that a change in the balance of competence is needed to minimise abuse of the free movement rights afforded to citizens under EU law?

This is a leading question, presupposing that widespread abuse occurs (where is the evidence?) and that it can only be countered by a transfer of powers in this area away from the EU back to the nation state (what is the basis for this assumption?).

Our members reject an approach which would discriminate against non-British EU nationals living and working in the UK.

Our members also reject any attempt to see free movement rights as being a one-way street.   These rights affect equally UK nationals in other EU countries, and any move to reduce EU competence in this area would adversely affect the position of such UK nationals.

We support moves to make the EU’s single market work better.  And the labour mobility that results from free movement of persons is necessary to make the EU’s single market work effectively.   Removing competences from the EU in this area would therefore undermine the single market as common basic standards and requirements would be replaced by a free for all among member states resulting in new obstacles to labour mobility to the detriment of economic growth.

Future options and challenges

14. What future challenges and/or opportunities might we face in relation to EU competence in the area of free movement of persons and what impact might these have on the UK national interest?

Our members believe that the challenge will continue to be that member states impose barriers to the free movement of persons which are contrary to both the spirit and the letter of EU law and that procedures for securing remedies or redress are too costly and/or cumbersome.  UK nationals in other EU countries are frequently the victims of such barriers. The European Commission should therefore be given adequate powers to police the smooth functioning of free movement.

Our members further believe that the UK has least to fear from any enhancement of EU competence this might require. The society, culture and bureaucratic administration of the UK is better attuned to the benefits and opportunities brought about through diversity and free movement.   The UK can be at the forefront of a campaign to remove elements of protectionism that persist in other member states.

15. What impact would any future enlargement of the EU have on the operation of free movement?

Enlargement has always been viewed favourably by British governments which have historically, and with good reason, spearheaded efforts to see the EU expand, not least to embrace Turkey. Our members see no objective rationale for departing from that approach.   The EU needs to continue to enlarge, to increase the size of its single market including by expanding its labour force if it is to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Turkey, a country with which UK nationals are well acquainted, offers a large, skilled and competitive workforce. We welcome the prospect of its accession to the EU once the criteria for membership have been met. Much the same applies to Ukraine as well as to the countries of the Western Balkans.

Our members point out that neither the EU (including the UK) nor the acceding countries will be what they are today when the latter eventually accede.   So it makes little sense to prescribe measures today to mitigate a potential problem several years down the line by which time much will have changed. Transition periods might be put in place to prevent a sudden and unmanageable influx of workers to existing member states. But this should be equitable, mindful of the benefit to UK nationals and businesses of free movement in the opposite direction, and honest about the distinction between free movement of labour (which might be limited on a temporary basis) and persons (which cannot).


16. Do you have any evidence of any other impacts resulting from EU action on free movement of persons that should be noted?

See response to Q 17 below.

17. Are there any general points you wish to make which are not captured above?

Our members believe that your questions fail to address the social and cultural contribution that EU citizens of one member state can make to another member state in which they live and/or work.   We in the UK are quick to claim credit for the positive influence our culture and values have historically had on other countries (and the British Council is testimony to the UK government’s long adherence to the belief that spreading culture and values brings economic benefits); it would be perverse to deny that greater diversity including the diversity gained through free movement within the EU has not also had a positive influence on the UK.  Cultural influence from abroad was very apparent at the London 2012 Olympics (which might never have come to London had the UK not embraced free movement).  Those Olympics underlined how openness to other cultures brings economic (as well as sporting) benefits.

Many of our members are students who have studied in another EU country.  Their link with, and contribution to, the UK typically persists long after they have graduated, not just academically, but socially, culturally and economically.  British university education is currently one of this country’s most valuable exports.   We believe that nothing should be done to undermine its success.

And many of our members come from families in which the partners originate from different EU member states. These relationships have become an engrained and enriching element of the fabric of British life.  Degrading the operation of free movement within the EU would risk undermining the basis on which those partnerships depend.

There are a number of other points not captured in the questionnaire, eg:

  • What more can the UK government do, by itself or through the EU, to promote EU citizenship rights, eg through a voter registration campaign for EU nationals, in the UK?
  • What more can the UK government do to encourage UK nationals to exercise their free movement rights in other EU countries?   Those that already do so find it an enriching experience; it follows that greater good would be derived from more UK citizens enjoying the experience.
  • What more can the UK government and, by extension, the EU do to support UK nationals living in other EU member states so that they do not lose their UK entitlements, eg the right to vote in UK elections?

18. Are there any published sources of information to which you would like to draw to our attention for the purposes of this review?

The mission statement of New Europeans sets out the approach of our members.

[1] The IPPR estimate that there are 2.2 million UK nationals living in other EU countries (principally in Spain, France, Ireland and Germany).   This suggests that a growing number of UK “migrants” may be coming broadly into balance with a declining number of non-British EU nationals in the UK, underlining the importance of looking at the two phenomena together.   EU “migration” is not a one-way street.

[2] Employment and Social Developments in Europe 2011, pp274-278

[3] Impact of migration on the consumption of education and children’s services and the consumption of health services, social care and social services

Anitha George, Pamela Meadows, Hilary Metcalf and Heather Rolfe
December 2011, National Institute of Economic and Social Research


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