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Brussels, 13 July 2010

Free movement rights for workers and Eurobarometer survey on labour mobility

What is the Communication on free movement about?

The Communication on "Reaffirming free movement of workers: rights and major developments" offers an overall picture of the rights of EU migrant workers, updating the Commission’s 2002 Communication, taking on board legislative and case-law developments. It aims to raise awareness and promote the rights of migrant workers.

The existing body of EU law in this area (the acquis) gives European citizens the fundamental right to move freely within the EU for work purposes and protects the social rights of workers and of their family members. In this dynamic area, where change is driven by labour market policy, family structure and the process of European integration, free movement law contributes both to achieving the single market and fostering the social, economic and cultural inclusion of EU migrant workers within the host Member States.

How have the rights of migrant workers evolved?

Over the last 40 years the principle of the free movement of people has developed constantly and grown steadily stronger. Originally intended for the active population, this fundamental freedom has gradually been extended to include other categories of the population, and now constitutes one of the most important individual rights that the EU guarantees to its citizens.

Directive 2004/38, for example, gives workers who are no longer working the right to retain the status of a worker if they are unable to work because of temporary illness or accident, for example, or if they are involuntarily unemployed or embarking on vocational training.

Successive rulings of the EU's Court of Justice have also broadened and clarified who is actually a worker. The Court found, for example, that short term employment or limited working hours cannot prevent a citizen from being considered as an EU migrant worker. It also recently clarified the rights of jobseekers. The Court has also confirmed that sport is subject to EU internal market rules in so far as it constitutes an economic activity. This means that professional and/or amateur sportsmen and sportswomen involved in gainful employment enjoy the same rights as other migrant workers.

How many Europeans live and work in another EU country?

According to the latest Eurostat data available, 2.3% of EU citizens (11.3 million people) reside in a Member State other than their own, and many more exercise this right at some point in their life. This number has grown by more than 54% (or 4 million) since 2001. This represents 37% of all non-nationals resident in the EU, the rest being nationals of non-EU countries.

According a new Eurobarometer survey published by the Commission today, 10% of Europeans have lived and worked in another country at some point in the past, whether in the EU or beyond, while 17% intend to do so in the future.

What do Europeans think about the right to free movement?

A majority of Europeans (60%) think that people moving within the EU is a good thing for European integration, 50% think it is a good thing for the labour market, and 47% think it is a good thing for the economy. Although 48% think moving around is a good thing for individuals, when it comes to the impact on families people are less certain. Only 36% say this kind of mobility is a good thing for families, and 29% say that it is a bad thing.

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

How many Europeans would consider working abroad?

Close to one European in five (17%) envisages working abroad at some time in the future. Denmark is the only country where a majority (51%) envisages working abroad at some time in the future. This is followed by Estonia (38%), Sweden (37%), Latvia (36%) and Lithuania and Finland (both 35%). At the other end of the spectrum only 4% of Italians, and 8% of Austrians and Greeks said they could see themselves working in another country in the future.

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

However, almost half of all Europeans would consider moving to another region or country if they were unemployed. Almost one quarter (23%) would be ready to move to another country or region, 18% would only move to another region in their country, and 7% would only consider moving to another country.

Looking at an overall willingness to move either region, country or both - two thirds of those living in France, Cyprus and Sweden are willing to move to another region or country (66%) if they became unemployed and had trouble finding a job in their country. They are closely followed by those living in Latvia (65%), the Netherlands (62%) and Luxembourg (61%). Conversely, the Portuguese (31%), Bulgarians (33%) and Romanians (34%) are the least willing to move to find work.

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

What are the main motivations to move?

All respondents were asked what might encourage them to work abroad in the future - regardless of whether they had done so in the past. Better quality of life was the most common reason given (29%), closely followed by better working condition (27%) and better career opportunities (23%). A country's more favourable economic, social and political situations are less important factors.

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

What are the main practical obstacles?

Just over half of Europeans expect that a lack of language skills will be a difficulty they encounter when working abroad. Just under one quarter (24%) expect to or have encountered problems finding a job, whilst 16% expect difficulties finding suitable housing and/or adapting to a different culture. Europeans are least likely to expect problems with taxes or accessing education or care for their children. In general the expectation that any of these problems will be encountered is fairly low, with most under the 20% and many under 10%.

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

What does the EU do to promote worker mobility in Europe?

Mobility is a key challenge for the future: the EU aims to ensure that citizens can fully benefit from working, living and moving in a unique and open Union. The Europe 2020 strategy outlines how intra-EU mobility will help countries to exit the economic crisis, for example through better matching the needs of the labour market. It is also a lever to raise the quality of education through mobility of students, trainees and researchers.

The Commission will put forward specific actions to promote mobility as part of the 'Youth on the move' and 'Agenda for new skills and jobs' flagship initiatives under the Europe 2020 Strategy during the second half of 2010.

How does EURES work?

The EU aims to raise public awareness of this right and to support jobseekers in their search at European level. EURES, the European employment service network, is at the forefront of the EU’s efforts to promote worker mobility.

A vast database brings together job offers from all over Europe and information and advice on living and working conditions in the various Member States. In addition to its web portal, EURES has a network of 700 advisers on hand to inform jobseekers and employers about recruitment at international level.

The Eurobarometer survey found that 12% of those interviewed for the survey already know about EURES.

What is modernised social security coordination?

In terms of the rights of people moving within Europe, the EU recently updated its rules on social security coordination, representing a step forward for Europeans on the move.

These new provisions require the member states to deliver user-friendly services to citizens and to proactively provide them with the information necessary to assert their rights. Part of the former E-forms are being replaced by a limited number of paper documents, covering situations in which mobile people need to carry proof of their entitlements, e.g. "exporting" unemployment benefits when looking for a job or seeking planned healthcare in another country. These easily identifiable "portable documents" are standardised and mutually recognised in all member states.

The Electronic Exchange of Social Security Information (EESSI) system, introduced by the regulations, will allow institutions to exchange information electronically, cutting red tape while enhancing readability and accuracy of data. The new electronic system will be fully operational by 1 May 2012. The EESSI system is to be regarded as a pilot project in the development of pan-European e-Government services fostered by the EU.

Further information:


Communication: 'Reaffirming the free movement of workers: rights and major developments'

Special Eurobarometer survey: Geographical and labour mobility – full report

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