Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Migrants Are Good for the EU and It Is Time We Admit That

Zhaneta Kuyumdzhieva, February 14, 2013

The issue of benefits from migrants in many EU member states is often raised, although the negative attitude prevails. With the deepening of the crisis in many countries in the Union and the adverse forecasts for economic growth, however, the conversation turns into hysteria as recently happened with the statement of British MEP Nigel Farage (Europe of Freedom and Democracy). The British politician and leader of the populist UK Independent Party (UKIP) is scoring notable increase of support among the British voters and represents a real threat for the big political forces on the Island. This is why his concerns that after January the 1st 2014 Bulgarians and Romanians will flood the labour market in the United Kingdom are perceived with the relevant dose of fear.

Fear of poor and deprived of faith Romanians and Bulgarians is reaching almost the same scale as years ago did the panic from the advance of the Polish plumber who turned into a symbol of the wave of Polish migrants that hit the richer countries in the EU after the removal of labour restrictions. But according to the European Commission and the European Parliament, the problem with migrants is much deeper and versatile. In its communication to the Council and Parliament from March last year, the Commission points out that in today's globalised world labour mobility not only in the EU, but between the EU and the rest of the world, is a more frequent event and even a necessity. A serious problem, however, is coordination of social security which is arranged basically in two ways.

There is a bilateral approach where member states conclude bilateral agreements with third countries. A disadvantage of this approach is that the network of agreements is incomplete and the content varies according to the member states. Currently a common approach is being developed for coordination of social security with third countries. With its communication, the Commission is trying to raise the issue of fragmented systems for social security which raises hurdles before the movement of migrants and enterprises from third countries.

According to the European Commission, "the network of bilateral agreements is by no means complete: depending on the third country in question, there may be no bilateral agreement in existence with the relevant EU country. This can mean loss of acquired social security rights for persons moving out of, or back into, the EU. This is just as likely to affect migrant EU citizens as migrants from third countries. Overall there is a lack of transparency as to what citizens' rights are". Due to imperfections in the system, problems often arise with the rights of citizens who are sent to work abroad or when there is a need of getting data from a third country to ensure the payment of pension, etc. with the aim to tackle fraud.

The European Parliament is currently preparing a resolution about the impact of integration of migrants on the labour market which will be voted on March 12th in the plenary in Strasbourg. To the draft report by Nadja Hirsh, member of the group of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (Germany), voted in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) and the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, some significant changes are proposed in the policy toward migrants and their social security and inclusion. Some of the proposed amendments reveal remarkable facts:

- in 2011 in the EU lived 48.9 million people born abroad (9.7% of the overall population of the EU). Of them 16.5 million come from another EU member state, while 32.4 million are from countries outside the EU;
- these citizens often face problems related to their participation on the labour market, performance at school or discrimination, racism and xenophobia;
- the shortage of qualified labour in the EU can be reduced by providing more equal opportunities in the education systems, better opportunities for professional development through education or through training and development of skills of workers;
- migrants in the EU exercise labour which is below their level of qualification;
- since the year 2000 nearly one fourth of the new jobs have been taken by migrants;
- enterprises established by representatives of ethnic minorities play a major role in society by filling the gaps in the market, bringing back to life forgotten crafts, create new products and services;
- entrepreneurs from ethnic minorities play essential roles as community leaders and represent a positive example for the young migrants;
- the percentage of employment among the citizens from third countries, aged between 20 and 64 years, is on average in the EU with 10% lower than the local population;
- illegal labour migration can be reduced not only through efficient monitoring, but also through efficient provision of opportunities for legal migration.

In its opinion on the draft report by Nadja Hirsch, the LIBE committee "underlines that it is not appropriate to use the issue of labour migration to create fears among the population; notes that the preliminary opinion based on prejudices and indignation undermines solidarity which is the foundation of society and that populistic usage of the issue should be firmly rejected".

Given the priorities in the long-term economic strategy Europe 2020, dedicated on smart growth and given the expected negative demographic trends (ageing population, low birth-rates and therefore declining numbers of people in working age), the EU obviously realises and admits that it needs its migrants. And not only that - it acknowledges that the problems related to the unequal opportunities for education, professional development, political participation, access to health and social services and discrimination are inherent not only for third country citizens, but also for people living in a EU member state but born in another country in the Union.

The tools the EU has at its disposal offer some standards in terms of social security for third country citizens who sojourn in a EU member state, but these rules should be conformed to the national legislation. For instance, after a five-year legal stay in a EU member state under certain conditions the third country citizens acquire the same rights as the local citizens in terms of social security, social assistance and social protection the way they are enshrined in the national legislation. There are also three directives on migration in the EU: the Single Permit Directive, the Blue Card Directive and the directive that settles the situation of researchers from third countries that ensure (under certain conditions however) equal treatment of third country citizens in terms of social security.

That guarantee includes equal treatment in terms of transfer of pensions in a third country and does not depend on the availability of bilateral agreements. Regarding the countries with agreements for cooperation and association, a certain set of principles for social security is also applied. For example, with Council decisions from October 2010, in the framework of the Association Councils established with the agreements with Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Israel, Croatia and Macedonia reciprocal rights for equal treatment of workers have been arranged, as well as transfer of the full size of pensions welfare.

The removal of the flaws in the network of bilateral agreements can be facilitated by enhancing cooperation among the member states. This, according to the Commission, can happen by establishing a working group of experts from the member states with the aim to achieve results. The group is to meet once a year to exchange information about the state of play of the negotiations of agreements of the EU with third countries. This will ensure as well a possibility to fill the gaps between the national bilateral approach and the EU approach for coordination of social security with third countries.

Either way, as is stated in the prepared position of the Europarliament, the measures for integration at local, regional and national level are a prerequisite to achieve an undiscriminated access to the systems for national security, health care, education and career development of migrants. Consulting, bodies engaged with considering litigation, effectively functioning instruments and institutions and in general the overall perfection of the policy toward these groups can lead to economic benefits for the countries, social benefits for the citizens and a more attractive image of the EU itself. A very necessary effect from such an approach could be the gradual removal of the stereotype of host countries to perceive migrants more as risk groups rather than bearers of potential and various opportunities of mutual interest.