• The UK wants to impose restrictions on benefits for new arrivals (Photo: hangdog)

UK and Germany dislike EU 'welfare tourism' plan

06.12.13 @ 09:23

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - The European Commission on Thursday (5 December) presented its report on free movement to interior ministers after a handful of member states in April complained about EU nationals abusing their welfare systems.

“Free movement is a right to free circulation; it is not a right to migrate in member states' social security systems,” EU commissioner for justice Viviane Reding told the ministers.

But Reding warned against “unfounded wrong perceptions” about abuse of welfare systems.

The commission says very few EU nationals draw on benefits in their host states and that the vast majority move for work related reasons.

Spending linked to healthcare for new arrivals averages around 0.2 percent of the country’s total health care costs, it says

The UK, along with Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, say some EU citizens are a financial burden because they receive benefits they are not entitled to.

Reding’s plans to crack down on the abuse have five elements.

She is proposing a handbook to help local authorities spot sham marriages as well as guidelines on habitual residency. The latter would determine the extent to which a person is entitled to draw benefits in a host EU country.

Topping up the European Social Fund and helping local authorities understand EU free movement rules, are also part of Reding's solution.

Lithuania’s interior minister Dailis Barakauskas told reporters member states have largely backed the plans.

He noted that the overwhelming majority of member states agreed that the free movement of persons is a core principle of the European Union and a fundamental right.

But not everyone is happy.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said Reding's report "is not sufficient to solve the problems."

An EU official said the UK “is very disappointed with the scale and ambition.”

UK home secretary Theresa May floated her own ideas.

“We need to be able to slow full access to free movement until we can be sure that mass migration is not going to take place. That could be by requiring new member states to reach a certain level of income,” she told reporters in Brussels.

EU sources say May’s proposal would have to be done via a Treaty change or done in the accession treaties of acceding countries via transitional arrangements.

UK officials believe Bulgarians and Romanians will arrive in large numbers once labour restrictions are removed on 1 January 2014.

The issue is highly politicised in the UK.

Last week, prime minister David Cameron introduced proposals to restrict housing and social benefits for the new arrivals.

One idea is to scrap work benefits in the first three months in the UK. After nine months, they would need to prove they are looking for work in order to receive state aid.

EU officials say his plans fall in line with the general rules set of the EU free movement rules.

Member states can issue expulsion orders and re-entry bans. But there are caveats.

“General re-entry bans for a certain group of people are not possible,” an EU official told this website.

Under EU rules, a re-entry ban must be assessed on an individual basis, noted the official.