Commission pushes back against ‘misguided’ migration debate

Commission pushes back against ‘misguided’ migration debate

Commission clarifies conditions in which EU citizens may claim benefits in another member state.


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The European Commission has published guidelines on the conditions in which European Union citizens can claim social security in another member state. The guidelines, published today (13 January), are supposed to counter an increasingly shrill debate – notably in Germany and the UK – about the cost of citizens from other member states who claim public assistance.

In principle, EU citizens have a right to reside in any member state provided they have a regular income or other means to support themselves; if they are unemployed, they may stay for six months in another member state to look for a job. These rules also apply to citizens of Bulgaria and Romania after the last transitional restrictions expired on 1 January.

The guidelines are meant to spell out what the concept of ‘habitual residence’ entails, which is used by member states to determine where an unemployed EU citizen may claim benefits. They spell out factors such as family status, sources of income, or previous employment.

The prospect of migration from the two countries – among the EU’s poorest members – has fuelled the migration debate, although there is no evidence of large-scale movement of Romanians and Bulgarians after 1 January.

In the UK, whose welfare system is not based on what a claimant has previously contributed, the debate has been especially heated. Last week, Labour’s Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, called for a ban on skilled EU citizens taking low-skilled jobs in the UK.

László Andor, the European commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, characterised the debate “in some member states” as “emotional and misguided”.

Andor said in presenting the guidelines: “There are clear safeguards in EU law to prevent people from abusing social welfare systems of other EU countries. This guide will make it easier for member states’ authorities to apply the ‘habitual residence’ safeguards in practice.”

Toby Vogel