Monday, 23 December 2013 22:30

Cameron and the European borders: the removal of benefits for calling principles into question

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The matter surrounding the migration controls in Europe has historically been highly susceptible to contending attempts at framing. Nowadays, the open borders created by the European Union makes it even more controversial. The immigration policy undertaken from the Conservative party, for instance, has now become one of the hottest question at issue. What David Cameron is determined to achieve is to quadruple the period EU migrants need to have spent in the UK before they get entitled to enjoy out-ofwork benefits from three months to a year. The 'danger' Britain might face is to host a mass migration wave coming from Bulgaria and Romania, as it happened nearly 10 years ago with Polish citizens.

In order to avoid any misleading consideration, we would better follow the historical events first: the largest expansion of the European Union in terms of territory happened in 2004. However, Romania and Bulgaria were still deemed underdeveloped in relation to the other states members of
the European Union. This means they were not ready to join the big family. The enlargement to those countries occurred only in 2007 but some restrictions got applied anyway: according to the seven-year 'transitional control', Romanian and Bulgarian citizens would have not been enjoying
working rights on older European Union states' soil. Exactly until January 2014 though. Now that the deadline is about to get expired, the PM Cameron and the Foreign Minister Mark Harper are up against the thorny problem of showing sufficient grounds for not to be blamed of discrimination. At
this end, the prime minister bewared to ward off any accuse of making cultural distinctions. Instead, he highlighted the great effort of the government to celebrate the achievements of people who are already in the UK, regardless of the background. He also justified his actions by considering a few
more points: the British welfare state is deemed as one of the most generous in Europe and in consequence subject to abuses from people unwilling to contribute and work hard. Cameron went beyond the pale when he put aside the benefit matter to question the principle of free movement of
people across the EU, saying this right could not be "unqualified". According to the PM, the freedom of movement will need to be reformed in mutual consent to what the other member states and the European Commission think about. No wonder that all these arguments fed back into the
Bruxelles institutions. In particular, a firm response came from the vice-president of the EU executive, Viviane Reding, who reminded Britain that freedom of movement rules within the EU zone are non-negotiable. She also considered other economic benefits favouring British citizens, such as the increased homes and businesses set up all around Europe. However, recent developments suggest that Cameron will not be alone in this battle. Indeed, Angela Merkel's new
coalition government recognized that processes of migration permit the overlapping of social problems such as health provisions, integration but also security and fairness of welfare. The position the German chancellor and the Social Democratic party took up on the matter is for the
defence of the principle of free movement but they also warned about the need to reshape incentives for migration by acting within the European framework.
Despite of the political aspects shared by several states leaders, my concern is about a widespread belief in Europe of a political ruling class focused on limiting people's freedoms. But this is not the case. Nowadays, conservative school of thought can not get confused with the old dividing
traditionalisms that marked the history. On the one hand, it is true that the British PM is wrong to
perceive the principle of free movement as a danger that needs to be reformed: this represents a
crucial part of the emancipation process pursued by the human gender. Emancipation, perceived as
the people's freedom from physical and human constraints which can stop them doing what they
would choose to do, is the highest ambition the mankind can ever fulfil. On the other hand, an
effective regulation of the working system is needed to reach a functioning EU framework. Being
part of a whole system not only means sharing values, but also rules. It is under this perspective that
the reconsideration of working benefits does not appear as a move in contrast with equalitarian
values, but it is actually a decisive boost to develop a more balanced order. The Schengen treaty and
the EU enlargement process have been milestones of the European progress. Yet, integration and
equal civil and social rights ought to be reviewed because the Conservative's concerns are grounded
and are bringing one of the leading country to renegotiate the its role in the European system. The
immigration topic will thereby maintain a remarkable weight and prospectives of a bleak future for
Europe are not to be ruled out.


Matteo Di Battista – UK Ambassador