EU member states raise immigration concerns with Irish presidency

Commission outlines new measures to encourgage movement of workers

 Four EU member states have written to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter requesting that the free movement of workers within the European Union be discussed at a June meeting. Photograph: Eric Luke

Four EU member states have written to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter requesting that the free movement of workers within the European Union be discussed at a June meeting. Photograph: Eric Luke

Fri, Apr 26, 2013, 23:30

Four EU member states have written to Minister for Justice and Home Affairs Alan Shatter requesting that the free movement of workers within the European Union is discussed at June’s meeting of justice and home affairs ministers, amid growing concern from some countries about so-called “benefit tourism”.

In a letter seen by the Irish Times the home affairs ministers of Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria point out that “a significant number of new immigrants draw social assistance in the host countries, frequently without a genuine entitlement, burdening the host countries’ social welfare systems”.

This is putting a strain on essential services in some countries, particularly in the area of schooling, healthcare and accommodation, the letter argues.

“Arrangements at national or EU level that allow those who have only recently arrived in a member state and have never been employed or paid taxes there to claim the same social security benefits as that member state’s own citizens are an affront to common sense and ought to be reviewed urgently,” it continues.

A spokeswoman for the Irish presidency said it had received the letter and was considering the request.


Proposals
The debate over EU migrant policy comes as the European Commission unveiled new proposals yesterday to make it easier for people to exercise their right to work in other member states. The new measures, which would need to be ratified by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, include a proposal to create national contact points, which would provide information and assistance to EU migrant workers to ensure they are better informed about their rights.

Member states would also be obliged to provide appropriate means of redress at national level, while unions, NGOs and other organisations would be permitted to launch administrative or judicial procedures on behalf of migrants.

While EU commissioner for employment and social affairs László Andor stressed that the proposal aimed to raise awareness of existing rights, rather than introduce new rights, the measures come at a politically sensitive time. Earlier this year British prime minister David Cameron promised new controls on migrants’ access to healthcare, housing and benefits.

Earlier this week Switzerland announced new measures to limit immigration from all European Union member states, a move that was criticised by the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Speaking in Brussels yesterday, Mr Andor said no countries had come forward with “concrete descriptions” of the phenomena of so-called benefit tourism.

He also disputed the perception that migrant workers could take jobs from home country workers.