The free movement of people is under more scrutiny than ever before. After a long economic downturn and a surge in support for anti-immigration parties across Europe, migration has found itself at the very top of the political agenda.
One man prepared to address this new social climate is László Andor. Mr Andor is a prominent Hungarian economist and is currently the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion at the European Commission. In a seminar organised by the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the EUI, he has espoused the benefits of the free movement of people and highlighted the misconception surrounding the issue.
Free movement is recognised as a fundamental principle of the European project which entitles EU citizens to look for work without a permit across the union and live wherever they happen find it.
Mr Andor was keen to point out three fundamental myths about free movement, using data obtained from Eurostat. Firstly, that labour migration is enormous in Europe; labour mobility is actually significantly smaller then then it is between the states of the USA. Free movement migrants accounts for less than half of 1% of Europe’s population. Mr Andor pointed out that in Britain, where tabloids and politicians had created “hysteria” about workers from Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, the vast majority of immigrants were coming from outside of the European Union. He described this as a “deliberately manufactured false perception.”
The second myth is that labour mobility increased during the recession. In reality, as employment across the Eurozone collapsed after the sovereign debt crisis, labour mobility declined alongside it. The countries worse affected by the crisis, including Greece, Ireland and Spain, saw a greater number of workers leaving but overall free movement is down from its pre-reaccessions peak.
Mr Andor’s third myth is the idea that foreign European workers are a burden on the countries they move to. This one is harder to settle due to the multitude of social factors involved across the union but it is clear that those who move around Europe in search of work are finding it. Working age European migrants are more likely to be in employment and paying taxes then their native counterparts and many have found work as nurses and teachers. The data also suggested that those who move from one country to another to work are likely to be young and overqualified for the jobs they have found.
Mr Andor also discussed the measures the EU commission were taking to support economic migrants, including a pan-European job-seekers website, greater access to advice and an enforcement directive to assist those who have had their rights as workers breached. But he also advised his audience not to “overestimate the potential of labour mobility in Europe as an adjustment mechanism to macroeconomic shocks and imbalances” stressing that free movement is primarily a right and not simply a tool.
The commissioner also referred to the proliferation of Eurosceptic rhetoric, which he diplomatically described as “very colourful political discussions” and warned his audience that “it would certainly be the end of the EU if we continued with this tendency.” He concluded by saying that free movement “has to be seen as an asset for the economy and has to be seen as an opportunity for the people. It has to be preserved.”