Speech by Commissioner Thyssen, in charge of Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, at the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg
When you ask Europeans what their most cherished EU right is, they typically point to their right to move freely in the EU.
This free movement of people would not be possible without EU rules on coordination of social security. These rules guarantee that you and I don't lose our health insurance coverage when traveling as a tourist or our pension and unemployment coverage when working in another Member State.
The rules are not new: the EU system of social security coordination has been regularly updated since its adoption more than 50 years ago, in 1959.
So why did we come forward with this update? To sum it up in one word: it is about fairness. It will ensure that EU rules are fair, simpler to apply and easier to enforce. It will bring greater clarity and legal certainty for people moving around Europe, for taxpayers and for the Member States authorities dealing with social security. And last but not least it is about modernising the rules to keep them fit for our changing times.
What do we propose concretely? An update of the current rules in four areas:
1) First, on unemployment benefits:
- We propose to give people looking for a job a better chance when they look for work abroad. They would be able to take their unemployment benefits with them to another EU country for six months, instead of the current three months;
- We also propose that people should work for at least three months in a new Member State before they can rely on their previous experience in other Member States to have access to unemployment benefits of the host country. If they fall unemployed after just a few weeks, they will fall back into their social security system at home;
- And we propose a change for frontier workers, who live in one EU country and work in another, returning home daily or weekly. If they become unemployed, we want the Member State where they worked and paid social contributions to pay their unemployment benefits. This will apply once they worked there at least for one year. This is a fairer arrangement, contributions and what you receive should be linked more closely.
2) Secondly, our proposal brings, for the first time, long-term care benefits, under the scope of the social security rules. In the face of our ageing societies, good arrangements for long-term care become more and more important for citizens. The proposal clarifies how such benefits are treated in cross-border situations and which long-term care benefits citizens may be entitled to when moving abroad.
3) Thirdly, we cover the access of economically inactive citizens – those who do not work and are not actively looking for a job - to social benefits. With today's proposal we clarify once and for all and put into law what we have been saying from the start of this Commission: free movement does not mean a right to free access to Member States' social assistance systems. We reflect the relevant rulings of the European Court of Justice, making this principle more explicit in the rules. This will ultimately bring more clarity and legal certainty for both citizens and Member States. And again, this is a question of fairness.
4) Fourthly, our proposal sets clearer procedures for national authorities to verify the social security status of posted workers and to fight potential abuse. Today's proposal to update the EU social security rules and the proposed revision of the rules on posting of workers are complementary. Both will safeguard free movement, while strengthening Member States' tools to protect workers' rights and address possible abuse.
Finally, we will keep the rules as they currently exist for child benefits. I have a lot of understanding for the sensitivities in some Member States. But if you look at the facts, there are very strong arguments, not to go for indexation: It would be a major bureaucratic exercise to set up such a system, while actually less than 1% of child allowances in the EU are exported from one Member State to another. And it would be even more complicated to control and enforce it in practice. It is also difficult to argue why someone, who is paying full contributions as a tax payer should not receive the same treatment in terms of benefits. Therefore the country where you pay your contributions will remain responsible for paying your child benefits, independently of where the child lives. If we want equal pay for equal work, then it is only consistent that you get equal benefits for equal contributions.
Once adopted, this proposal will provide more transparency, legal certainty and fairness - for the benefit of mobile citizens, public authorities, employers and taxpayers.
I count on the same level of commitment by Member States and the European Parliament to deliver on both proposals. Only with joint efforts can we ensure the fair internal market that our citizens and businesses expect and deserve.