By Kevin Doran
Two European commissioners have criticised the United Kingdom’s plans to impose restrictions on the free movement of EU nationals. European Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner László Andor described proposals by British Prime Minister David Cameron to limit the rights of European Union immigrants as “an unfortunate overreaction”. Separately, European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding warned: “Freedom of movement is non-negotiable as long as you are a member of the EU and the single market.”
Writing in The Financial Times, Cameron warned that he would clamp down on “welfare tourism”. He wrote: “Newly arrived EU nationals will not be paid work benefits for the first three months. After that, EU nationals will only be able to claim benefits for a maximum of six months unless they can prove they have a genuine prospect of employment.”
Cameron also announced that the government would toughen up the test that migrants needed to take before they claimed benefits. He said: “If they don’t pass that test, we will cut off access to benefits such as income support.” The British PM also had a warning for migrants arriving with no intention of finding work. He wrote: “If people are not here to work – if they are begging or sleeping rough – they will be removed,” he said – adding that a 12-month entry ban would be imposed.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Andor said that the British public had not been given the full truth on immigration. He said Cameron’s rhetoric “risks presenting the UK as a nasty country in the EU,” adding: “We don’t want that. If there are real problems we need to act proportionately”
Meanwhile, Reding told journalists that free movement of people was “a fundamental pillar of the free market” along with freedom of movement of goods, services and capital – which the UK has championed. You sign up to all four freedoms or “none,” she said.
Cameron also called on his European colleagues to work together to limit free movement rights across the union. He suggested imposing restrictions on movement until a country’s gross domestic product per head reached a certain share of the European average or allowing each country to set an annual cap on EU migrants.
It was not clear what support the British government will get from other member states but there were signs that a small coalition was forming behind the United Kingdom. Earlier the UK was joined by Germany, Austria and the Netherlands in a letter to the European Commission demanding tighter restrictions on access to welfare benefits.
Interior ministers will meet on December 5 in Brussels to discuss free movement of EU nationals. Although the commission appeared to be relaxed that it would not be challenged by a united front there were, nevertheless, reports that ministers in Germany and France were also under political pressure to curtail free movement rights.
Kevin Doran is chief executive of Brussels communications firm ResEuropa – a partner of Policy Review