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Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner
Upholding the right to free Movement and fighting cases of abuse
Plenary Session debate of the European Parliament on 'Respect for the fundamental right of free movement in the EU ' /Strasbourg
15 January 2014
The right to free movement is the EU right most cherished by citizens.
Current EU rules on free movement, including access to social benefits, are fair and equitable. They contain sufficient safeguards to prevent EU citizens becoming an unreasonable financial burden on the host country.
The Commission stands ready to help Member States in their efforts to fight fraud and abuses. While they occur on a small scale, they must be taken seriously. Abuse destroys free movement.
Member States and the EU share the responsibility to make free movement rules work and to uphold them, to the benefit of citizens, growth and employment.
Today’s debate is a timely debate. Much was said and written in the past few weeks in the media on this subject. It is a debate in which the EU institutions need to make their voice heard.
The Commission believes that in this debate, we must clearly state that all EU citizens are entitled to free movement. They enjoy the right of free movement as a direct consequence of the accession of their country to the EU.
Free movement gives EU citizens the ability to live, work and study anywhere in the Union. The right to free movement is the EU right most cherished by citizens. Over 14 million EU citizens are residing in another Member State on a stable basis.
There is a strong economic case for free movement: it benefits not only those who move but also the economies of those who stay home. The GDP of the EU-15 is estimated to have increased by almost 1% in the long term as a result of free movement after the 2004 enlargement.
Data provided by Member States show that the main motivation for EU citizens to move to another EU country is for work. Of all the EU citizens residing in another EU country in 2012, more than three quarters (78 %) were of working age, compared to around 66% among nationals. On average the employment rate of mobile EU citizens (68 %) was higher than among nationals (65 %).
Mobile EU citizens tend to be net contributors to the costs of public services they use in the host country. As a matter of fact, mobile EU citizens who are not in employment represent only a limited share of the total number of mobile EU citizens. They are therefore unlikely to represent a burden on the welfare systems of host countries.
Some Member States have voiced concerns that free movement was abused on their territories, causing difficult social situations in certain localities. The Commission has listened to these Member States and has gathered data – provided by the Member States – to better grasp the dimension of the problem.
To present its findings, the Commission adopted in November a Communication on free movement of EU citizens and their families which provides facts and figures on free movement, clarifies the rights and obligations of EU citizens and explains the conditions and limitations offered by EU rules on free movement. Current EU rules on free movement, including access to social benefits, are fair and equitable. They contain sufficient safeguards to prevent EU citizens becoming an unreasonable financial burden on the host country.
However, the Commission stands ready to help Member States in their efforts to fight fraud and abuses. While they occur on a small scale, they must be taken seriously. Abuse destroys free movement. That’s why the Commission with a 5-point action plan proposed to give a helping hand to the Member States when implementing the right to free movement on their territories.
Member States and the EU share the responsibility to make free movement rules work and to uphold them, to the benefit of citizens, growth and employment. This includes countering public perceptions which are not based on facts or economic realities. In exercising this responsibility, national authorities can count on the support of the Commission.
Please rest assured that also the Commission is ready to uphold EU law. It is our duty as Guardian of the Treaty to ensure that any adopted measures are fully compliant with EU law.
I count on the strong support of the European Parliament when it comes to free movement. Our citizens expect us to do nothing less.