In times of crisis, we must safeguard free movement

Published under: Solberg's Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Article in Financial Times, 17 January 2014

"Sir, Free movement of persons is the essence of European citizenship. All EU and European Economic Area citizens have and must have the right to move freely across the EU and EEA countries as tourists, for business, to study – or to seek work", writes Vidar Helgesen in this article together with Sweden's and Finland's Ministers for EU; Birgitta Ohlsson and Alexander Stubb.

Sir, Free movement of persons is the essence of European citizenship. All EU and European Economic Area citizens have and must have the right to move freely across the EU and EEA countries as tourists, for business, to study – or to seek work.

In times of economic crisis, we must safeguard free movement. The European Council has repeatedly pointed to the importance of labour mobility for boosting growth in Europe. We need to make sure that we use the full potential of a continent of half a billion people.

For almost 60 years, citizens of the Nordic countries have enjoyed the benefits of free movement and an open labour market. Many people find work in another Nordic country every year. Today we continue working to promote more mobility.

In times of increased global competition, access to the entire EU and EEA population is an asset for European companies. Employees and their families must therefore be able to move to other countries. Some countries are screaming for more labour as their exports are at an all-time high. Others face high youth unemployment. Many young people could seek work abroad and eventually return with new skills. When competitiveness is uneven, we need to facilitate mobility – not constrain it. EU legislation is in place ensuring that the free movement principle works in practice and that workers are properly covered by benefit and insurance schemes.

We are concerned about claims that people move across Europe for “welfare tourism”, merely to exploit other countries’ benefits systems, despite a European Commission report showing that EU migrants are not a burden for their host countries. In fact, mobile EU citizens in most states are net contributors to the welfare system. The report underlines that for the EU15 countries, gross domestic product is estimated to have increased by almost 1 per cent in the long term as a result of post-enlargement mobility (2004-09). Furthermore, mobile EU citizens help the host country’s economy to function better by alleviating skills shortages and labour market bottlenecks.

As the report suggests, it seems that the only actual problem is the “widespread belief that EU migrants are a burden”.

Prejudiced arguments have no place in political debate. EU migrants who work and contribute financially to building our societies should not be made scapegoats for loopholes in national benefit schemes. We consider the free movement principle to be fundamental for European integration and a part of the solution to the economic crisis.

Birgitta Ohlsson, Minister for EU Affairs, Sweden
Alexander Stubb, Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade, Finland
Vidar Helgesen, Minister for EEA and EU Affairs, Norway