Is freedom of movement in the EU really non-negotiable?

With British PM Cameron statements about immigrant from EU Member States, Commissioner Reding said that freedom of movement is non-negotiable. But would you say that is really non-negotiable topic? Is in any danger that it will be simply put on the table and maybe we will discuss in the EU how to tighten the rules related to freedom of movement?

Reetta Toivanen, Adjunct Professor for Social and Cultural Anthropology, Research Fellow, Institute of International Law and Human Rights, University of Helsinki

I think Mr Cameron has been shamefully populist in his statements and even though he and many other populist should know better: we, Europeans or rather our governments, have ratified UN treaties based on the UN human rights declaration on HR.

Article 2.

• Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 13.

• (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

Article 14.

• (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

So in fact, the freedom of movement actually is one of the most basic rights.

The Human Rights Committee stated in its Comment Nr. 27 that freedom of movement is indispensable for the free development of a person and that this right interacts with several others in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This document states that all people shall have the freedom to choose where they reside. They also have the right to leave any country they choose, including their own.

I do think that non-negotiable means here in Reding’s statement non-derogable right.

In reality, human rights are constantly in danger to be neglected and they are constantly violated so in that sense, it is extremely important that we citziens would be aware of the law, also human rights law, that we know it and act in protecting it.

Simon Usherwood, Associate Dean, Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of Surrey

Free movement is a cornerstone of integration, so renegotiation is not viable at all, unless you are ready to change the nature of the EU completely. In addition, it would go against British interests in economic integration, so they would be foolish to pursue this line.

In the unlikely event that anyone puts it into any renegotiation, I cannot see it being acceptable or accepted, for just those reasons.

Alexander Hoogenboon, PhD Student, Faculty of Law, Maastricht University

I would agree with the comments made by Commissioner Reding. I think the issue of free movement cannot be dissociated with the idea(l) of EU Citizenship. Whatever the precise content of that sometimes controversial notion, at the heart it would seem to encompass at least the ‘freedom to move and reside’ as stated in Article 21 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. This essentially migratory identity in turn, I think, links up with the goal identified in the preamble to the Treaty on the European Union of an ‘ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe’: it is through the interaction between and the intermingling of the peoples of Europe, in particular in the context of exercising free movement rights, that we can come to mutual understanding, foster mutual trust and perhaps elaborate on shared European values. This idea of building a form of European consensus as a process of interaction between peoples has both a strong philosophical tradition (particularly obvious in the Kant’s Zum ewigen Frieden) but also enjoys empirical support (in what is called Intergroup Contact Theory)

So in short, I would in fact say that the fundamental freedoms are fundamental and are integrally bound up with the European project and should not be considered ‘negotiable’ in the sense that Cameron seems to that word.

As to the specific concerns invoked by Cameron, the spectre of social tourism/benefits abuse, it is worth remembering that the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality has the dual purpose of ensuring equal treatment of migrant EU citizens with the nationals of the host country as well as protecting (and this is less commonly invoked) the domestic (working) population from social dumping. It is thus a tool to prevent exploitation of both the migrant EU citizen and the domestic population by the less scrupulous. In seeking to renegotiate the scope of that principle, this dual function should be kept clearly in mind.

Finally, to my knowledge, there seems to be little evidence, other than anecdotal stories and/or populist rhetoric, that such benefit tourism in fact takes place. Most literature in fact broadly agrees that free movement, taken as a whole and with a focus on the long-term, has a broadly positive impact on the EU and the Member States.

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