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Workers or “social tourists”? EU enlargement to the East and migration in the Western Balkans

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The Court of Justice of the European Union has long been lighting the way towards deeper European integration. Its judgments have always been delivered with the aim of promoting the application of European law and greater integration between Member States. In the recently published judgment C333/13, known as the “Dano case”, the Court of Justice declared that economically inactive EU citizens who migrate to another Member State for the sole purpose of obtaining social assistance could be excluded from certain social benefits.

Two Romanian nationals, Ms Dano and her son Florin, brought an action before the social court in Leipzig (Germany) against Jobcenter Leipzig, which refused them basic benefits. Ms Dano did not enter Germany to look for work and, although she is seeking benefits under the basic benefits reserved for jobseekers, the file shows that she is not looking for work. She has not received any professional training and has so far not worked in Germany or Romania. She and her son have been living in Germany since at least November 2010, where they live with Ms Dano’s sister, who looks after them. Ms Dano receives, for her son, a family allowance of €184 per month and an advance on alimony of €133 per month. The Court of Justice recalls that under the terms of the directive, the host Member State is not obliged to grant social assistance during the first three months of residence.

After the announcement of the decision on the 11thth of November, several member states, notably those wanting to push for stricter rules on immigration and social benefits, are calling for changes to the current legal framework to make it more difficult to qualify for social benefits for potential beneficiaries of social assistance.

Since the creation of the European Union, several processes have taken place so far, but none of them has been more important than the so-called “Eastern enlargement”, when 10 new Member states, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, have joined the EU. This enlargement was followed by that of 2007, when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU. This process has undoubtedly created a new situation in the EU, since the EU now has 28 members and the citizens of the new member states are now European citizens and by having this status they have the legitimate right to travel and work in other Member States.

But the more important question here is whether these immigrants go to other countries to work or to become “social tourists” and benefit from the generous welfare systems of Western and Nordic countries. The concept of “social tourism” was introduced by British Prime Minister David Cameroon, based on the premise that immigrant flows to the UK from Eastern European countries which have recently joined the EU produce because of social benefits, not work opportunities.

At this point, perhaps Mr Cameroon has rushed to conclusions, since the evidence provided by the EU tells us otherwise. But he was right that EU enlargement increased immigration flows from new member states to old member states. This fact had been predicted by several studies carried out before the 2004 enlargement. Most of these studies predict that in the long term, 2 to 4% of the population of the new Member States will emigrate to the EU15 countries. These predictions were partly confirmed after the 2004 enlargement. The rate of migration from new to old Member States has increased since enlargement, but at a very modest level, not as expected. According to European Commission data from 2006, “migratory flows between EU8 and EU15 Member States have been on average quite modest”. Due to fear of migration flows, most old member states have imposed so-called restrictive measures on the labor market in order to control migrant workers. Although these measures can take up to 7 years to implement, no country has imposed them for the entire period. Despite these measures, most countries needed additional labor in different fields, mainly in production, agriculture and medicine. As a result, most countries opened their labor markets early enough to allow citizens of the new Member States to immigrate and seek employment there. Thus, the measures imposed at the beginning did not have an impact on immigration and did not prevent immigrants from settling in another country.

The fear of a negative impact on wages and the labor market in the old Member States seems to be a myth. This question has been used particularly for political purposes by right-wing and Eurosceptic parties, claiming that immigrants would mistrust wages, “steal” jobs from natives and have negative effects on the economy in general. As noted above, migration flows from new to old countries increased after enlargement, notably from Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Polish immigrants particularly choose the United Kingdom to work; therefore many Polish workers found employment, mainly in agriculture and construction. Most Irish workers previously held these jobs, so there have been calls that this would have a negative effect on the Irish economy. But with cheaper labor now available in the UK, Irish workers found new, better-paid jobs. So overall the UK did not experience a decline in its workforce, Polish workers were able to easily find employment in the UK and Irish workers were not influenced by this flow of immigration because they found better and well-paid jobs.

The most important conclusion regarding social immigration and EU enlargement is that immigrants who move from the new Member States to the old Member States are strongly attached to the labor market and that they are unlikely to be among the welfare recipients. Based on research in most old Member States, including Ireland, Germany and Sweden, the tendency of migrants to receive social assistance may be high initially when they migrate, but over time, they begin to integrate more and more into their country. society and be part of the labor market. Based on what we have shown so far in this session, readers can observe that all the research facts and the little empirical evidence we have on this issue show us that the greatest interest of migrants from new member states was to find a job in the country. former members, without becoming “well-being tourists”. In conclusion, EU enlargement has not had a negative impact on old member states due to migration flows from new member states. On the contrary, economic migration has generally contributed to a more efficient allocation of production factors, notably human capital, thereby improving the prospects for economic circulation and the mobility aspects of youth migration. EU enlargement has shifted migration from classic working-class immigration to so-called brain drain immigration, as younger, highly educated people now tend to emigrate more to other countries to pursue their professional career. In a word, things are only getting better on this subject.

As we have seen, EU enlargement has not created many problems in terms of social benefits. The “Dano” judgment handed down by the Court of Justice made it clear that Member States can refuse to grant social assistance to people who constitute an unreasonable burden on the social system. It now seems clear who can benefit from social assistance within the EU.

But what is the situation for citizens of the Western Balkans? All states in this region are currently in the process of becoming members, and with the exception of Kosovo which currently has potential candidate status, the others (Albania, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro) are already candidates. And in addition to being left behind in the process, Kosovo seems to be the most difficult situation regarding this issue. Citizens of Kosovo are the only ones unable to visit Schengen countries without a visa, and the number of asylum seekers from this country is increasing. According to the latest national media reports, many citizens of Kosovo are leaving the country to seek a better future in one of the EU countries.

Serbia and Macedonia were granted “free access” to the Schengen area in late 2009, but this did not include the right to work in the EU. However, according to reports from the EU and Switzerland, there have been many cases where Serbian and Macedonian nationals have been caught working illegally in Western countries. For this reason, the European Parliament threatened these two countries with removing the right of free movement to the Schengen area. However, this This has never happened and the governments of these two countries have taken appropriate measures to put an end to this phenomenon, as well as to asylum seekers.

The news we receive from the Balkans shows us that citizens of this region see the European labor market as a solution to their economic problems. According to EU reports from 2013, 16% of total asylum seekers in the EU come from Western Balkan countries. Despite the relatively large number of asylum seekers from the Balkans, most of them actually aim for the labor market and not for social benefits in EU countries. On the other hand, the EU is working to prevent immigration flows from this region, but the results on this issue still remain a matter of discussion.

Author: Artan Murati

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