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24th Jul 2021

Brussels on guard over UK's Romania, Bulgaria plan

  • The UK has seen heated debate on lifting restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals (Photo: Paul Vallejo)

Reported UK plans to curb the future rights of Romanians and Bulgarians has put the European Commission on guard.

Restrictions imposed on citizens from Bulgaria and Romania in eight EU member states - including the UK, France and Germany - come to an end on 1 January 2014.

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Once lifted, both nationals will have the full working entitlements and social rights of any other EU citizen in the eight member states, as guaranteed under EU law.

The issue has sparked intense debates, particularly in the UK, where some of the British political elite claim the two eastern European nationals will arrive in record-busting numbers.

European commission spokesperson Jonathon Todd Monday (25 November) said the Brussels executive would assess the UK plans when details come out.

“Once the UK government clarifies any changes it intends to introduce concerning access to benefits in the UK by people from other member states, the commission will seek to ensure that these measures are fully compliant with EU rules on free movement,” said Todd.

The centre-right Conservatives are reportedly pressuring prime minister David Cameron to unilaterally launch additional restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals, despite EU rules.

Member states cannot, under EU regulations, discriminate between their own citizens and migrants with EU passports.

But the UK now wants to ban both nationals from receiving jobseekers' allowance for up to a year after they enter the country, a move that is likely to be challenged in the courts. The current length of time is three months.

The Guardian newspaper reported on Sunday that Cameron is willing to trade off possible lengthy legal battles in exchange for a popularity boost in the opinion polls.

Member state authorities already have the right to kick out EU nationals from their territory if they become an “unreasonable burden on the social assistance system of the host member state.”

A commission paper on the free movements of EU citizens out Monday notes that national authorities are entitled, under strict conditions, to terminate a person’s right of residence.

Commission justice spokesperson Mina Andreeva said national authorities must provide a complete analysis of why the person has to leave the country and allow for an appeal.

“Even if you ask a person to leave, it’s very difficult to exclude that person from coming back altogether,” she said.

National authorities must apply a proportionality test based on three criteria before they execute deportation orders. The test looks at the duration of the stay, connections to the country like family, and the final bill to the public coffer.

Belgium, for instance, asked 1,200 unemployed EU nationals to leave last year. Many of them were French and Italian nationals.

“We see it almost everyday, people with EU citizenship, who have their residency permits taken away,” a lawyer from the Brussels-based migration rights Foyer told this website.

“They get a letter saying they have to leave Belgium,” he noted.

He pointed out the Belgian authorities do not physically escort them to the border, even if they decide to stay.

The commission says, in a paper out on Monday, that EU nationals with jobs in the host country are entitled to the same social assistance benefits as nationals from the beginning of their stay.

If they do not work, then the member state can deny them access to social assistance benefits during the first three months of residence.

After five years of legal residence, EU citizens are entitled to social assistance in the same way as nationals of the host member state, notes the paper.

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