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16th Feb 2019

Welfare tourism 'neither widespread nor systematic' in Europe

  • Office job: Mosts EU migrants move to another EU state to work or to look for work (Photo: EUobserver)

EU citizens move from one member state to another overwhelmingly for work reasons and not to claim welfare, an EU study said Monday (14 October).

The European Commission study is an attempt by Brussels to bring some hard evidence to an increasingly emotive political discussion about the potential effects of the EU's fundamental rules on the free movement and equal rights.

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EU social affairs commissioner Laszlo Andor said the study shows that “so-called” benefit tourism is “neither widespread nor systematic.”

According to the study, the "vast majority" of EU migrants moving to another EU state do so to work or to look for work and are more likely - because they are younger - to be in employment than the nationals of the host country.

It also showed that "in most countries, immigrants are not more intensive users of welfare than nationals" and where they are it is because they receive "specific" benefits due to being a migrant.

Meanwhile, although the number of intra-EU migrants has increased in the last ten years, they accounted for just 2.6 percent of the EU population in 2012, up from 1.3 percent in 2003.

This overall increase has brought with it an increase in unemployed migrants too, though at a slower rate (up from 0.7% to 1% in the same timeframe).

But these non-workers are mostly (71%) pensioners, students and jobseekers while 79 percent of them lived in economically active households.

It also notes this is not a "static" group with people moving in and out of employment.

The study also shows that migrant flows change according to the economic well-being of a country.

"Countries such as Spain and Ireland have seen a decline in intra-EU inward migration, whereas flows to countries such as Austria, Denmark and Germany have increased."

The study was commissioned in response to a call earlier this year by Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK for tightened EU rules to stop "benefits tourism."

The commission dismissed the four-state demand on the grounds there was no evidence for their claims.

It has since taken the UK to court over the 'right to reside' test that London applies when determining whether non-UK residents are entitled to social security benefits, arguing it is too tough.

But the commission remains broadly concerned that fundamental EU laws - such as the right to move freely - will be undermined by such debates.

The fear comes as anti-immigrant parties are polling well in several member states - such as France, the UK and the Netherlands - resulting in centrist parties adopting their policies in order to keep voters onboard.

In the UK - currently debating a controversial new immigration bill - two-thirds of the population thinks "drastic action" needs to be taken to reduce immigration.

A majority of those polled for Sky News on Monday believe the health, education, housing and welfare systems have been negatively affected by immigration.

And 74 percent say they are concerned that Romanians and Bulgarians - whose workers are currently restricted - will have normal access to Britain at the beginning of next year.

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