Understanding free movement and migration in the European Union
Conceptual framework for policy
When people think about why some EU countries are more open to EU free movement than others they often point to key ‘actors’ like populist political parties, or the media.
However, differences in national institutions, especially national welfare and labour market institutions, can also shape the way that national publics and policymakers think about free movement.
REMINDER analysis suggests there are three inter-related ways in which national welfare institutions can influence whether there is domestic pressure in a particular country to restrict the access of EU workers to welfare benefits:
- The fiscal costs and benefits of free movement for host countries. The design of national welfare institutions, including the structure of benefits received and taxes paid, influences the fiscal costs and benefits of receiving workers.
- Perceptions of fairness in migrants’ access to welfare benefits in the host country. Does the national population think the way welfare benefits are provided to migrants is ‘fair’?
- How similar are a country’s national welfare policies to the common EU regulations regarding free movement and mobile workers’ access to welfare benefits? EU regulations regarding free movement and social rights for mobile EU workers are modelled on the welfare state regime existing in the six founding EU Member States in 1957. This system was typically characterised by: contributory social insurance systems; family policies wherein family benefits were justified by the employment of the worker rather than by an individual right; and a largely insurance-based health care system funded significantly by contributions rather than general taxes. We can expect demands for restrictions of the social rights of EU workers to be greatest in countries whose national welfare policies and principles diverge most from those of the Continental European welfare state model.