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Free movement of people: five actions to benefit citizens, growth and employment in the EU

The joint responsibility of Member States and the EU institutions to uphold EU citizens' rights to live and work in another EU country is underlined in a policy paper just adopted by the European Commission. To support Member States' efforts to do so, the Commission's paper outlines five concrete actions to strengthen the right to free movement, while helping Member States to reap the positive benefits it brings. The policy paper clarifies EU citizens' rights to free movement and access to social benefits, and addresses the concerns raised by some Member States in relation to the challenges that migration flows can represent for local authorities.

"The right to free movement is a fundamental right and it goes to the heart of EU citizenship. More than two thirds of Europeans say that free movement is beneficial for their country. We have to strengthen and safeguard it," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. “I am aware of the concerns of some Member States regarding potential abuses related to mobility flows. Abuse weakens free movement. The European Commission is there to lend a helping hand to Member States to deal with such challenges. That's why today the Commission put forward five actions that will help Member States tackle potential abuse cases and use EU money for social inclusion more effectively. Let's work together on safeguarding the right to free movement. European citizens count on this."

László Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, said: "The Commission is committed to ensuring that EU citizens are in practice able to exercise their rights to work and live in any EU country. Member States and the EU must work together to ensure that free movement rules continue to maximise benefits for our citizens and for our economies. The Commission recognises that there can be local problems created by a large, sudden influx of people from other EU countries into a particular geographical area. For example, they can put a strain on education, housing and infrastructure. It therefore stands ready to engage with Member States and to help municipal authorities and others use the European Social Fund to its full extent."

With over 14 million EU citizens resident in another Member State, free movement – or the ability to live, work and study anywhere in the Union – is the EU right most cherished by Europeans. EU workers have been benefitting from this right since the dawn of the European Union, with the principle enshrined in the first European Treaty of Rome in 1957.

Free movement of citizens is also an integral component of the Single Market and a central element of its success: it stimulates economic growth by enabling people to travel, shop and work across borders and by allowing companies to recruit from a larger talent pool. Labour mobility between Member States contributes to addressing skills and jobs mismatches against a background of significant imbalances in EU labour markets and an ageing population.

Finally, EU free movement rules contain a series of safeguards that allow Member States to prevent abuses.

Today's Communication analyses the impact of mobile EU citizens on the welfare systems of host Member States. The factual evidence overwhelmingly suggests that most EU citizens moving to another Member State do so to work. They are more likely to be economically active than nationals and less likely to claim social benefits. In fact, the percentage of mobile EU citizens who receive benefits is relatively low, compared to Member States' own nationals and non-EU nationals (Annex 3). In most Member States mobile EU citizens are net contributors to the host country's welfare system.

The Communication sets out the rights and obligations which EU citizens have under EU law. It clarifies the conditions citizens need to meet to be entitled to free movement, to benefit from social assistance and to social security benefits. Taking into account challenges which have arisen in some Member States, it also explains the safeguards to counter abuse, fraud and error. It also outlines social inclusion instruments available to Member States and local communities facing particular pressures relating to the inflow of mobile EU citizens.

To address concerns in some EU Member States about the implementation of free movement rules on the ground, the Commission sets out five actions to help national and local authorities to:

Fight marriages of convenience: The Commission will help national authorities implement EU rules which allow them to fight potential abuses of the right to free movement by preparing a Handbook on addressing marriages of convenience.
Apply EU social security coordination rules: The Commission is working closely with the Member States to clarify the 'habitual residence test' used in the EU rules on social security coordination (Regulation 883/2004/EC) in a practical guide that will be produced by the end of 2013. The strict criteria of this test ensure that citizens who are not working may only have access to social security in another Member State once they have genuinely moved their centre of interest to that State (for example their family is there).
Address social inclusion challenges: Help Member States further use the European Social Fund to tackle social inclusion: From 1 January 2014, at least 20% of ESF funds should be spent on promoting social inclusion and combating poverty in each Member State.
Promote the exchange of best practices amongst local authorities: The Commission will help local authorities to share knowledge developed across Europe to better address social inclusion challenges. The Commission will produce by the end of 2013 a study evaluating the impact of free movement in six major cities. It will invite mayors in February 2014 to discuss challenges and exchange best practices.
Ensure the application of EU free movement rules on the ground: the Commission will also set up by the end of 2014, in cooperation with Member States, an online training module to help staff in local authorities fully understand and apply free movement rights of EU citizens. Today 47% of EU citizens say that the problems they encounter when they go to live in another EU country are due to the fact that officials in local administrations are not sufficiently familiar with EU citizens’ free movement rights.
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