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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

László ANDOR

European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion

Labour Mobility in the European Union – The Inconvenient Truth

Lecture at University of Bristol
Bristol, 10 February 2014

Ladies and gentlemen,

Labour mobility within the European Union has existed for more than fifty years but in recent months has become the subject of much controversy, as I am sure you have noticed.

In Britain, and some other EU countries, we have been witnessing increasing unease, animosity, and sometimes hostility towards migrant EU workers, in particular as regards the rights of citizens from other EU Member States to various forms of social benefits in host countries.

The truth, and indeed it might be "inconvenient" for some, is that the vast majority of people who move from one EU country to another do so in order to work. They don’t do it in order to claim benefits. These workers are in fact of considerable benefit to the economies, and to the welfare systems, of the receiving countries.

For all countries with an ageing population, like the UK, the availability of migrant workforce is an asset. Countries like Germany, where the domestic workforce is rapidly ageing and shrinking, would simply be unable to function without inflows of people from other EU countries.

It is also important to see that the movement between the labour markets of various countries is not a zero sum game. Economic growth creates opportunities for both domestic and foreign workers.

EU migrant workers can help the host country's economy to function better, by addressing skills shortages and labour market bottlenecks. They contribute to macroeconomic demand and to government revenues, so they can indeed help to create more jobs in the host country. They can also help to reduce the tax burden on the domestic population.

All available studies point to the same direction. There is a consensus among experts on these fundamental, overall advantages of EU labour mobility. However, although these advantages apply at the macro level, one can always find specific sectors or geographic areas where the general rules about the overall gains do not apply and where the costs or disadvantages concentrate.

If for example a large number of young doctors leave a country within a short period of time, labour mobility is seen as a problem, there should be no doubt about it.

Similarly, there are town, districts and villages in the receiving countries where a sudden large influx of people from other EU countries can lead to overcrowded schools, housing shortages and strains on public services.

However, Member State governments should address these genuine concerns by tackling the specific problems – and not by restrictions on the free movement.

In the sending countries, it would be foolish to restrict the free movement of workers who want to leave in order to earn and learn, and most likely to return after some time.

And in the receiving countries it would be wrong to try to keep out the people that boost their economies and help to keep their welfare systems afloat. Such restrictions would be like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Where there is tension and where the costs and disadvantages concentrate, a solution has to be found. EU cooperation is instrumental in finding these solutions and to ensure that the outcome of labour mobility in Europe can constantly improve.

However, without seeing the overall picture, one cannot find the necessary solutions. One may not even find partners for the discussion if the bigger picture is not clarified, and if the overall positive nature of free movement is not recognised.

The EU Single Market's four freedoms

The first point is that free movement for workers within the EU does not stand alone. Labour mobility is just one of the four freedoms on which the EU's Single Market is based, along with free movement of goods, capital and services.

These fundamental principles have been written into the EU's Treaties since its foundation and as such have been ratified on numerous occasions by the parliaments of all EU countries.

Member States cannot cherry pick which of the freedoms they want and leave the rest because the EU is based on a balance of mutual interests. This is precisely why the EU has been so successful, and so mutually beneficial for all Member States.

The EU's rules on the free movement for workers entitle EU citizens to move to another Member State and work there on the same terms as nationals, without any restriction or discrimination.

Restrictions on the free movement of workers are therefore very exceptional. In practice, restrictions are limited to a transitional period immediately following a new Member State's accession to the EU and are optional for the host countries.

In the case of recent accessions, this transitional period has been limited to seven years. For Romanian and Bulgarian workers, all restrictions expired on 1st of January this year in the eight remaining Member States that had applied them. Currently, 13 Member States apply restrictions on free movement of workers from Croatia.

Decisions on whether or not to allow a candidate country to join the Union, and any transitional arrangements applying, are taken unanimously by the Member States and ratified by their national parliaments.

Workers and non-active people

Workers, and their direct family members, are entitled under EU rules to move to other countries without restriction, and to be treated the same way as the host country's workers. Although social security systems and rules are decided at national level, there are nevertheless EU rules to ensure that people moving to another EU country are not penalised.

Self-employed entrepreneurs are also entitled to move and to establish themselves on other EU countries without discrimination.

Workers that are temporarily posted to another EU country to work can continue to pay social security contributions in their home country for up to two years but are subject to all of the host country's social legislation on such issues as minimum wages, equal pay, working time, paid holidays and health and safety at work.

Clearly workers from other EU countries, whether temporarily posted or working more permanently, need to be protected from exploitation by unscrupulous employers. Host country governments should strictly apply their legislation on minimum wages, working conditions, non-discrimination, housing standards and crack down on tax and social security fraud.

An initiative to tackle undeclared work I will be presenting later this Spring, to improve cooperation between EU countries, will help in this respect.

And job seekers are entitled to look for work in another EU country for up to six months, or even longer, on condition that they continue to seek employment in the host country and have a "genuine chance" of getting work.

Job seekers are entitled to unemployment benefit from the EU country where they last worked (usually their home Member State) for three months, or in the case of some countries six months, if they were registered as unemployed in the Member State of last employment. Just to be clear, host countries do not have to pay unemployment benefits to job seekers arriving from another EU country from day one.

However, the EU rules for people that are not working, or genuinely looking for work, are more restrictive.

Essentially, EU law entitles Member States to require that non-active people, such as students and pensioners, can demonstrate that they have sufficient financial resources to not be a burden on the host country if they wish to stay longer than three months.

So the hundreds of thousands of British people that go to Spain to retire in the sun have to prove to the Spanish authorities that their pensions are sufficient for them not to be a financial burden on Spain.

Workers from another EU country are entitled under EU law to receive the same social security benefits as the host country's workers.

However, people from another EU country that are not active only become eligible for host country social security benefits if they are "habitually resident" in the host country.

The "habitual residence test", laid down in EU law requires a case by case assessment of where a person's centre of interest lies on the basis of such facts as their family status and family ties, how long, and how continuously, they have lived in the Member State concerned and how permanent a person's housing situation is.

In the case of the UK, two thirds of the non-active people from other EU countries previously worked in the UK and 84% are relatives of a working EU citizen.

Advantages and risks associated with labour mobility

Free movement of labour can give more flexibility to the labour markets of both the host countries and the countries of origin.

This is because people can move quickly to countries where there is a labour shortage and can return to their own country if the host country’s labour-market situation deteriorates or the situation in their country of origin becomes more attractive.

Studies consistently show that mobility flows are mainly driven by job opportunities in the host countries.

That is why Spain and Ireland attracted so many EU mobile workers before the crisis and now have negative net migration, as a result not only of higher outflows, but above all much lower inflows.

Without such adjustments of this sort, unemployment in both Ireland and Spain would have been even higher.

As I mentioned a moment ago, inflows of workers can benefit the host countries by addressing skills shortages and labour market bottlenecks.

For the countries of origin, labour mobility can cause problems , such as a “youth drain”, "brain drain" and skill shortages, particularly in certain sectors such as healthcare. I will return to this issue later.

That said workers, especially younger ones, do not necessarily move to another country permanently and they may return to their home country later, armed with experience and new skills, including languages, acquired in the host country.

Barriers to labour mobility – what is the EU doing to eliminate them?

Of course, there are still many obstacles and disincentives that dissuade EU citizens working — or looking for work — in another Member State, including language, family ties, culture and climate. In any case, mobility will always remain an issue of personal choice.

EU law, including the Treaty rules on free movement of workers, already provide a good basis for overcoming legal obstacles or discrimination. But last year the Commission proposed a Directive to further facilitate the exercise of the right of free movement for workers.

It will require every Member State to set up at least one body to provide assistance and information to employers, EU workers and their families on their rights and obligations under EU law.

It will also require Member States to put in place effective means of redress for workers from other EU countries if they encounter discrimination or unfair treatment.

I am pleased to say that this Directive is now very close to being adopted by the European Parliament and EU Ministers.

Last month the Commission also proposed to upgrade EURES — the pan-European job-search network – to allow more jobseekers to be aware of vacancies in other EU countries and to allow more employers to find people with the right qualifications and experience to fill their vacancies.

There are already around 1.4 million vacancies on the EURES web portal, 1.1 million jobseekers have registered their CVs and 30 000 employers are registered for the purpose of finding skilled staff.

The 900 EURES Advisers have 150 000 contacts with jobseekers and employers on average each month, and provide job-search and/or recruitment assistance from and to another Member State.

The proposed upgrade would enable EURES to provide more job offers and increase the possibility of job matches, helping employees and SMEs, in particular, to fill job vacancies faster and better.

The UK is currently the Member State that advertises the most vacancies on EURES, to the benefit of UK employers and the UK economy. The reform would encourage other EU countries to make more vacancies available through EURES.

Do people actually use their freedom to work in another country?

The EU does not have the same levels of labour mobility as the United States or Australia, and never will have. Precisely because of the language, family ties, culture and climate factors I already mentioned.

Until the 2004 enlargement, labour flows between the Member States were very limited. The 2004 and 2007 enlargements brought a huge increase in the number of workers moving from one Member State to another.

The number rose from 4.7 million in 2005 to 8 million in 2013.

In percentage terms, that is an increase from 2.1% to 3.3% of the total labour force.

Three quarters of that increase stems from free movement of people from the Member States that joined in the last ten years.

Despite that increase, the annual mobility rate between EU countries in 2011-12 was only around 0.2% of the total EU population.

That is far below the rate recorded in the US, where it is around 2.7%.

And even when you include mobility flows between large regions of the Member States, where differences of language and administration are practically non-existent, there is still a large gap.

While Europe’s wide linguistic diversity and institutional differences explain this to some extent, those figures suggest that there is scope for more geographical mobility across the EU.

Do income differences drive migration flows?

The fact that the bulk of EU labour mobility between the Member States is in the East-to-West direction seems to confirm that income and wage differentials are among the main push factors for labour mobility, as well as short-term job prospects and expectations.

Similarly, labour mobility in the South-to-North direction has been quite limited, in particular because of the relative convergence in income that applied, at least until the crisis started.

A comparison of the flows from the Central and Eastern Europe countries towards the EU of 15 after the enlargement reveals a clear correlation with their relative income level.

There are large outflows from the low-income states Bulgaria and Romania on the one side, and limited outflows from the more prosperous countries, such as the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia on the other.

But the relative income level is obviously not the only push factor. The employment, social and political situation also influence people’s desire to move.

As for the pull factors, employment opportunities in the destination countries seem to have been the main driver, together with culture, language and network factors.

Most studies conclude that the generosity of the welfare system has not played a significant role.

Low impact of transitional restrictions

The transitional restrictions on free movement imposed by some EU countries played only a limited role in the overall distribution of labour flows.

The fact that the UK and Ireland opened their labour markets early on in 2004 definitely played a role in attracting a large number of workers from the new Central and Eastern European Member States.

But the shift from Germany and Austria to the UK and Ireland as the main countries of destination started before 2004 and was mainly due to differences in job opportunities at the time.

In many cases there was no link between the legal provisions applying and the mobility inflows, because other factors — such as employment opportunities, culture, language and networking effects — were more important.

For instance:

  • Sweden did not attract many mobile workers from the Central and Eastern European Member States, despite being as open as the UK and Ireland

  • Spain and Italy attracted many workers from Bulgaria and Romania as from 2003, a very long time before they opened their labour markets, and

  • Inflows into Spain are now much lower as a result of the depressed demand for labour there.

Experience has also shown that restrictions do not always work and may even be counterproductive.

They may induce EU mobile citizens to circumvent the rules by accepting undeclared work or setting up in bogus self-employment, since there was no restriction on the freedom of establishment.

Impact of the crisis – changes in volume and direction

The economic crisis that started in late 2008 has triggered big changes in intra-EU mobility patterns.

In the first phase in 2009 to 2010, mobility flows declined sharply, falling 41% compared with 2007 to 2008.

This was due to a sharp fall in labour demand, especially for low and medium-skilled workers, and to the progressive reduction in the mobility potential of the Eastern European Member States.

This fall was logical, given the very high flows from 2004 to 2008.

In the second phase from 2011 to 2012, mobility recovered somewhat, increasing by 22% compared with 2009 to 2010. This was due in particular to a sharp increase of 73% from the southern Member States, where unemployment was high.

At individual country level, mobility flows in only a small number of countries were higher in 2011 and 2012 than in the pre-crisis period (2007-08).

All the countries concerned were severely affected by the crisis.

They include Greece (+170%), Spain (+107%), Ireland (+64%), Hungary (+58%) and Latvia (+39%).

While many factors explain the changes in outflows, there is a relatively strong correlation with changes in the unemployment rate in the countries of origin.

Nonetheless, most intra-EU mobility flows still originate in the Central and Eastern European Member States (56% in 2011-12 compared to 68% in 2007-08), despite a substantial increase in the flows from the southern Member States affected by the crisis (from 11% in 2007-08 to 19% in 2011-12).

German social security data confirm the strong increase in percentage terms in the number of EU citizens coming from southern European Member States to work in Germany.

The rise is relatively limited in absolute terms, however, since it involves only around 114 000 people over slightly less than four years, or around 1% of unemployed people in the southern European Member States.

There have also been changes in the distribution of flows among countries of destination, with the percentages in Spain and Ireland falling sharply, the UK’s stable and Germany’s and Austria’s rising sharply, owing to their favourable economic situation and the opening of their labour markets in May 2011.

Lastly, one big change compared with the pre-crisis period was the increase in the percentage of those with a tertiary education among recent intra-EU mobile workers, which went from 27% in 2007-08 to 44% in 2011-12, in line with changes in demand for labour.

According to the OECD, while the response of migration to labour market shocks prior to the crisis was stronger in the United States, recent evidence suggests that migration in Europe has reacted quite strongly to changes in labour market conditions, indeed more so than in the USA, where internal mobility seems to have declined.

However, some of the adjustment involved changes in migration to and from non-EU countries, rather than through intra-EU mobility.

In Spain, for instance, to a large extent, the adjustment involved a fall in numbers of immigrants from Latin America and Morocco and more return migration, while until now Spanish worker mobility played a minor role.

Until now, therefore, mobility did not play a large role in adjusting to the labour market shock, in particular in the euro area, and there is a lot of potential for a further increase in intra-EU labour mobility.

Indeed, in a situation where there is great divergence in unemployment and job vacancy rates in the Member States and regions, labour mobility should play a larger role in adjusting to the situation and should therefore reduce geographical mismatches.

Surveys indicate that more people are interested in mobility than actual flows show, and this is the case in particular for mobility from southern EU member countries.

Impact of mobility on countries of destination

Recent changes in intra-EU labour mobility, in particular in connection with the 2004 and 2007 enlargement, have sparked concern in the countries of destination.

Such concern relates to the scale of the incoming labour force and the potential impact on employment and unemployment, wages and working conditions (“social dumping”), and for the Welfare State.

While the number of EU mobile workers has increased sharply in absolute terms, in terms of the overall active population it has only gone up one percentage point over the last decade, rising from 2.1% in 2005 to 3.2% in 2013. Far from the "mass movement" referred to by some politicians.

It is also lower than the percentage of non-EU migrant workers (4.3%).

While the rise in the number of EU mobile workers has been concentrated in a limited number of countries, the number of those established in most Member States in the last 10 years account for less than 4% of the total labour force.

Most studies of the post-enlargement economic impact conclude that it has been positive overall.

For instance, a model-based study estimates that post-enlargement mobility flows over the period 2004 to 2009 have increased the GDP of the EU-15 countries by around 1%, with higher figures in the major countries of destination, such as Ireland, the UK, Spain and Italy.

Other studies tend to confirm the overall positive impact on aggregate GDP and moderate effects on GDP per capita.

The positive economic contribution of EU mobile citizens also depends on the socio-economic features of the persons involved.

78.2% of EU citizens residing in another EU country in 2013 were of working age (15-64), compared to 65.7% of nationals of the countries involved.

Furthermore, the employment rate of EU-28 working-age (15-64) citizens residing in other EU countries was 68.1% in 2013, which is 3.1 percentage points above the average for nationals (65.0%) and far above the average for non-EU nationals (53.5%).

This is due to the much higher activity rate of EU mobile citizens (77.1% compared with 72.2% for nationals), and despite a slightly higher unemployment rate (11.7% and 10.1% respectively).

The employment situation of EU mobile citizens varies with their nationality, though their qualifications, the economic sector and the labour market situation in the destination country mainly explain the differences.

At all events, EU mobile citizens established in the last 10 years accounted for less than 2% of the total unemployed in EU-28 in 2013.

Most studies indicate that EU mobile workers enable the host country’s economy to function better because they contribute to the skill mix and work in sectors and occupations where labour shortages need to be filled.

The effect of post-enlargement mobility on the unemployment rate and wages in the countries of destination is expected to be marginal in the long term.

What effects there are tend to be short-term and affect members of the indigenous population or mobile citizens from earlier periods with similar labour-market characteristics — such as the low-skilled.

But even when differences in workers’ qualifications are taken into account, the impact tends to be moderate.

It is worth pointing out, however, that EU mobile workers from Central and Eastern European Member States are often employed in jobs for which they are over-qualified.

This was true of more than 50% of those with a tertiary education in 2012.

This represents a loss for the mobile workers themselves, and for the countries of destination and origin.

Impact on welfare budgets

Given the concerns voiced by some Member State governments about so- called “welfare tourism”, and in particular the fear aroused by the opening of the labour markets to workers from Bulgaria and Romania, the Commission has worked hard to gather hard facts and figures.

The overall impact of EU mobile citizens on the social security systems of the countries of destination is likely to be positive, given their high participation rate. There is no evidence that they represent a burden on the welfare systems of the host Member States – on the contrary they pay more in taxes and social security contributions than they receive in benefits.

In the specific case of the UK, as confirmed recently by the Office of Budget Responsibility, public debt would be much higher in the future without immigration because of the ageing population. Do people in the UK really want to pay higher taxes instead of immigration?

Recent Member State data also show that EU mobile citizens use welfare benefits no more intensively than the host country’s nationals.

The EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions confirms that in most host countries EU mobile citizens are no more likely — or are even less likely — to be in receipt of social welfare benefits than nationals.

Owing to their age and employment status, EU mobile citizens who are receiving social welfare benefits are in general more likely to be in receipt of unemployment, housing and family-related benefits than old-age, sickness or invalidity benefits. Yet they represent only a small percentage of those receiving such benefits, in line with the relatively low percentage that they make up of the total population of most Member States.

Furthermore, data show that EU mobile citizens account for a very small percentage of recipients of special non-contributory benefits — that is, benefits that combine the features of social security and of social assistance.

No Member State has given the Commission any factual evidence that so-called benefit tourism is systematic or widespread. In the case of the UK, I have been asking for such evidence to back up their claims for over two years but all that we have received is a serious of anecdotes about cases of criminal fraud and vicars performing sham marriages.

This absence of so-called benefit tourism is not a surprise given that there are strict safeguards under EU law to prevent it.

Impact on local communities

There may be problems in local areas where people recently arrived from other EU countries are concentrated and the public services (such as schools, healthcare and transport) need to adjust in order to deal with a larger population for a few years.

Host country authorities may not have paid sufficient attention to such problems. Member State Governments should ensure that they not only enjoy the macro-economic benefits of immigration, including extra fiscal revenue, but also address people's genuine concerns about problems at the local level.

Member States can, and should, use the European Social Fund to help to deal with some of these local problems. The Social Fund is worth more than 10 billion euros every year.

Impact on source countries

There are more justified concerns about the long-term impact on countries of origin, given the outflows of young people, demographic challenges and the risk to competitiveness.

This holds mainly true for the Central and Eastern European Member States, but it may also be problematic for those in the South if outflows continue to increase.

Outflows of EU mobile citizens from Central and Eastern European Member States since 2003 amounted to almost 5% of the working-age population of the countries of origin in 2013, with higher percentages in Romania (9.2%), Lithuania (8.1%) and Latvia (6.9%).

The rates are much lower in the Member States in southern Europe (0.8%).

The outflows of young people from some Member States have been disproportionately high.

At EU level, the percentage of recent intra-EU mobile citizens aged 15 to 34 (48.6%) is much higher than that of the total population of the countries of origin (24.6%).

The difference is even greater in the case of mobile citizens from the Central and Eastern European Member States, where the figures are 52.9% and 26.9% respectively.

This may be a problem, in particular for the public finances and the sustainability of social security systems, especially in countries where the demographic outlook is unfavourable.

The situation regarding the “brain drain” is less clear. In the case of the 8 largest countries that joined the EU in 2004, the percentage of mobile citizens with a tertiary education is only slightly higher than in the total population of the countries of origin (30.9% versus 27.7%), while it is even lower in the case of Bulgaria and Romania (17.9% versus 20.7%).

Overall, the Central and Eastern European Member States do not seem to be affected by a particularly serious “brain drain” and the rise in enrolment rates for tertiary education may offset the outflow of skilled labour.

But this does not rule out some highly negative effects in certain sectors or occupations, such as the health sector, which may have repercussions for access to healthcare services in the countries of origin, and especially in rural areas.

47.2% of mobile citizens from the southern EU Member States have a tertiary education, compared with 26.6% of the labour force in the countries of origin.

To date, however, absolute numbers of mobile citizens from the southern Member States have been small.

Given the scale of the outflows, studies estimate that the negative effects of post-enlargement mobility on the GDP of the Central and Eastern European Member States will be significant, though the impact in terms of GDP per capita are more limited.

Remittances sent by workers living abroad may partially offset the negative growth impact in the short and medium term.

They represented 4.1% of GDP in Bulgaria, 3.3% in Lithuania, 3.2% in Romania and 1.9% for Poland (average 2004-12) and may help to drive economic growth by supporting aggregate demand and financing investment in education or start-ups of capital-intensive businesses.

Lastly, mobility is not always a one-way street, especially in an area of free movement.

Workers leaving their home countries often return with added experience, language skills and savings to invest back home.

In situations where unemployment, especially among young graduates, is very high, finding a job abroad is certainly more beneficial for both the individual and the country of origin than staying unemployed.

Nonetheless, both the economic and the social impact of mobility should be monitored where the outflows are large in scale and extend over time.

Key UK statistics

Here in the UK, EU mobile citizens accounted for around 4.6% of the working-age population in 2013, which is less than the percentage of non-EU immigrants (4.8%).

Around 2.0% come from other countries that were EU members before 2004 and 2.1% from countries that joined the EU in 2004.

Only 0.4% were from Bulgaria and Romania, compared with an average of 0.8% across the EU.

In the 1990s around 40% of migrants to UK were from Europe (including non-EU countries) – but mainly from the then 15 EU Member States.

In 2001, this share had declined to 25% - most migrants to UK were from Commonwealth countries and other parts of the world

Migration from Europe has picked up again with the enlargements with a share growing from 27% of all migrants in 2003 to 41% in 2007

But it has decreased in subsequent years to around 37-38% in 2009-2011.

In 2012 it increased again to 40% - but mainly due to increase in migration from the 15 EU Member States that joined before 2004 and to a decrease of overall migration, especially from Commonwealth.

In fact, Bulgarians and Romanians are concentrated in Italy (37%) and Spain (30%).

There are 12% in Germany and 5% here in the UK.

UK official data of foreign adults registering in the UK show that the number of newcomers from Bulgaria and Romania in 2012/13 was actually 21% down on 2011/12, falling from 35 600 to 28 200.

Unfortunately this never made the headlines here.

Meanwhile, there was a sharp increase in the numbers of EU citizens coming from Spain (+50%), Italy (+35%) and Portugal (+43%), admittedly from quite low levels in absolute terms.

Most EU citizens (76%) from other Member States here in the UK are of working age (aged 15 to 64).

That figure is much higher than the average for UK nationals (64%).

Moreover, the share is even higher for mobile citizens from Romania and Bulgaria (82%) and EU countries that joined in 2004 (79%).

The employment rate of EU working-age citizens (77%) is also significantly higher than that of UK nationals (71.3%) and even more than that of non-EU nationals (60.2%).

Among EU working-age citizens here in the UK, the employment rate figures for mobile citizens from EU countries that joined in 2004 (78%) and from Romania and Bulgaria (74.8%) are very favourable.

If we compare the unemployment rates, we see that the unemployment rate of UK nationals in the UK is 7.8% while the unemployment rate of other EU nationals living in the UK is only 7.2%.

As regards access to benefits, data from the UK Department for Work and Pensions show that of the 5.6 million claiming working-age benefits in February 2013, around 121 000 or 2.1% were EU nationals.

That is less than half of their percentage of the working-age population, which is around 4.6%.

The media and the Government have focused on the fact that there was a sharp increase compared to the past, but failed to mention that until May 2011, access to benefits by workers from the countries that joined in 2004 was severely restricted.

When they became entitled, this led, of course, to an automatic increase.

An "inconvenient truth" is that EU mobile citizens in the UK have until now been much less likely to receive benefits than nationals.

A recent paper from the London School of Economics reaches the same conclusion as far as access to social housing is concerned.

Another paper from University College London’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration confirms the overall positive fiscal impact on the UK of mobility from EU countries.

It states in particular that “The net fiscal balance of overall immigration to the UK between 2001 and 2011 amounts therefore to a positive net contribution of about 25 billion pounds, over a period over which the UK has run an overall budget deficit.”

One explanation for this positive fiscal impact is the favourable age structure of EU mobile workers compared to nationals.

Another positive point is the fact that most recent EU mobile workers in the UK are highly educated (on average, 50% versus 41% of those from other Member States).

There is also evidence that EU mobile citizens help to fill shortages on the UK labour market, be they for highly or low-skilled workers.

And while certain groups may pay a price for this, there is little evidence of an overall negative impact on jobs or wages.

Lastly, it is worth pointing out that EU mobile citizens from Central and Eastern European Member States are dispersed across the UK to a greater extent than other mobile citizens.

This may limit any negative impact in terms of spatial concentration, in particular in London.


Ladies and gentlemen,

We all know there is a problem with the public’s perception of labour mobility, particularly in this country. And that the UK debate on free movement often generates more heat than light.

A recent Financial Times article says that as many as 70% of the UK public felt the UK was in danger of “being swamped” by other cultures.

That was back in 1978 when net migration was zero.

Today 80% of the UK public are hostile to immigration.

On average, people here believe that one in three people in the UK are migrants, whereas the real figure is closer to one in seven.

They overestimate the number of EU migrants claiming unemployment benefits by a factor of six.

There is a big gap between the perceptions and the facts.

The FT article ends by asking “How many politicians will be brave enough to lead opinion rather than follow it?”

I have spoken to you today because I wanted to present an objective and factual overview of free movement within the EU. Because I firmly believe that the debate on labour mobility should be based on facts rather than perceptions, gut feelings or anecdotes.

For some, this may be an "inconvenient" approach, but I do believe people deserve to be given the facts. And politicians should be responsible enough to talk about facts, rather than to pander to prejudice, or in the worst cases, xenophobia.

Thank you for your attention.

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