EU freedom of movement is 'a myth'
by Justin Stares
As nationalism is on the rise across the European Union, the right of people to free movement across borders has been exposed for what it is - a complete myth - reports PublicServiceEurope.com
Glance through the European Union treaties and you will find, in capital letters, a section on the "Free movement of persons, services and capital". Read on, however, and you will discover that the small print is quite revealing. The EU has in reality never actually guaranteed the free movement of persons, but rather the free movement of workers.
A sacked civil servant from Greece is welcome to move to Belgium or Britain in search of a job, but will he be able to continue claiming unemployment benefits? Or become a permanent resident when he gets there? Or use the local health system when his temporary travel insurance runs out? Workers are welcome to move across the EU in order to take up employment they have already secured, but those who may become a burden on another country's social security system are supposed to stay at home and suffer.
While the good times rolled, some member states took a more relaxed attitude to residency laws. Many European expats living in Brussels - some for many years - have never bothered to officially become Belgian residents because they think there is no point. Those stopped by police trust that their passports will be sufficient proof of identity. Some still have their cars registered in their home country for insurance purposes, despite this being technically illegal. Among non-European women who are pregnant, it is widely known that doctors in Spanish hospitals are willing to deliver babies without asking awkward residency questions. Residency rules have on occasion been waived or ignored in countries keen to stress their European credentials, it would seem.
But the good times are now over. Authorities are dusting off copies of the consolidated EU treaties to find services they can legally deny to foreigners. Suddenly, there is talk of ending 'abuse' of the Spanish health service. In the United Kingdom, too, politicians talk of preparing to close borders ahead of the arrival of hordes of unemployed Greeks, and presumably Spaniards, who they fear will surge towards London in search of British social security benefits.
In some cases, authorities are not only enforcing the letter of law, they are allegedly going beyond it. Free movement is supposed to apply not only to EU citizens, but to their non-European spouses and children. But just try bringing your new wife or husband into the EU to live with you. According to the European Commission's lawyers, proof of marriage is all that is required in order for your spouse to gain entry at the EU's external border. The reality, however, is quite different.
Robin Pomeroy, a British journalist with the Reuters news agency, married Iranian national Bita in England. But he discovered that this was not enough to entitle the newly-weds to live together in London. "A marriage certificate, even a British marriage certificate, has nothing to do with it," Pomeroy tells PublicServiceEurope.com. "It's very simple to get married in Britain but getting permission to live with your wife in the UK is another matter," he says. As Britain's embassy in Iran is currently closed, Bita will have to apply for a spouse visa in either Abu Dhabi or Turkey; a process that could take anything up to three months.
The commission is looking to enforce EU law in this field with a test case. In-house lawyers want to send a film crew to the bloc's external border, in order to witness a border guard refusing entry to the spouse of a European citizen. But understandably, the individuals concerned would generally rather battle with the paperwork than take their case to the European Court of Justice - where judges can take years to rule.
The dismantling of the principle of free movement can only accelerate as the economic crisis deepens. The very concept of the EU citizen is under threat as national governments throw up ever higher hurdles to 'foreigners' looking to cross internal borders. It is not only banking systems that are retrenching within their national borders. National border authorities are too, it is a worrying trend.
As a well educated, multi-lingual, anglo-saxon, well-off European citizen, I can only agree with this article. When faced with issues I am often able to overcome them but am appalled at how much effort I need to go to to secure what I would call basic rights. I feel very concerned and deep empathy for others who are not necessarily as fortunately equiped as I am to deal with these issues.
Tim - Denmark
When crossing the border of Italy going to France by train last week, we lost about one hour as the French police asked everyone for their papers. Short of reminding me of old WW2 movies, the police were rude and insulting to many of the passengers, particularly those with 'non-european appearances' - read: black, Arab, other. The assumption by French authorities is that the Italians are inept at controlling their borders and so the French must continue to control theirs. Whether justified or not, the display of border control in full regalia and 'hauteur' resonates with the message of your commentary quite strongly. The tourists on the train were mumbling that this soured their sense of welcome to France, a country never famous for its kindness to foreigners in the first place. Given the key position of tourism in France's economy, I see more harm than not. Despite the recent election of Hollande 'the soft' following Sarkozy 'the tough', it would appear that little has changed nor is likely to change. Like Tim (Denmark), I know that my 'profile' poses little risk of delay by the authorities, but I am concerned for those that appear 'less acceptable'.
David S - Paris, France
This is an excellent article but the Robin Pomeroy example, as presented, is a little misleading. EU free movement law applies when you move to a member state different than your citizenship. It would only apply to him for entry into the UK, if he had been working in another member state and then decided to return to the UK.
EU free movement