Europe, free movement and the UK: Charting a new course

Published Tue 29 Apr 2014
In this report, we consider the arguments that have been made for changing the rules around free movement within the EU, and set out our own suggestions for reform.

The fact that every European citizen has the right to move around the EU for work, study or lifestyle is one of the European Union's most significant achievements. Over the past few decades, free movement has improved the efficiency of European labour markets, created opportunities for cultural and educational exchange, and allowed people to permanently relocate to another country for family reasons or for retirement.

It is therefore deeply worrying that opinion surveys show that a majority of voters want David Cameron to seek to end the right to free movement as part of his proposed renegotiation of the United Kingdom's relationship with the EU. These concerns should be treated with the respect they deserve and the positive case should focus on how the system can be made fair for all so that everyone shares in the benefits of migration.

In our view, a good starting position for a more constructive narrative would be to acknowledge that, in the UK, migration from Europe is regarded as little different from all other migration flows, and so its impacts on both the economy and society need to be treated as such. Acknowledging this fact is not at odds with a pro-migration stance. However, it does highlight the need to manage European migration as much as possible in a way that preserves the principle of free movement while also drawing clearer boundaries around it.

In this report, we look in particular at:

  • addressing the problem of vulnerable low-skilled employment in the UK
  • increasing conditions on access to social security assistance for mobile EU citizens
  • the return of individuals who are unable to exercise their free movement rights
  • reform of the rules around transitional controls for future accession states
  • the question of unbalanced migration flows.

We also make recommendations about the integration of those who intend to make their home in another EU member state on a more permanent basis.

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