EU to tighten rules on social benefits
By Eszter Zalan
The EU Commission proposed on Tuesday (13 December) tighter rules on social welfare for citizens receiving benefits in different member states.
The proposed changes would allow EU countries to require that a worker from another member state works for at least three months on its territory before previous experience in another member state is taken into consideration when claiming unemployment benefits.
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“Free movement does not mean a right to free access to member states’ social assistance systems, “ EU labour commissioner Marianne Thyssen said in Strasbourg.
The Commission’s proposals attempt to counter the rise of anti-migrant sentiment across the continent and concerns over “welfare tourism”, an issue likely to feature in next year’s election campaigns in France and Germany.
Based on an earlier court ruling, the EU executive also proposed to allow member states to deny social benefits to economically inactive citizens who don’t have a job and are not looking for one. They can reside in an EU country only if they have health coverage.
Under the proposal, jobseekers would be allowed to export their unemployment benefits from the current period of minimum three months to at least six months.
The proposal however does not allow states to cut child benefits if the child lives in another country from the working parent. The country where the parent works remains responsible for paying the child benefit.
Earlier this year former UK prime minister David Cameron argued that many EU workers claim child benefits in the UK only to send it back to their home country where the child actually resides.
He negotiated a deal for such arrangements to be ruled out, but since the British voted the leave the bloc, the agreement is void.
Thyssen said the cost of administrating such changes to child benefits would outweigh the possible abuse.
According to the commission, less than 1 percent of child benefits in the EU are paid to children residing in an EU country other than where their parents work.
The European Parliament and national governments need to agree with the Commission’s proposal to come into force.
EU states that have many of their citizens working in other member states are expected to scrutinise the proposed changes closely.