Free movement of labour and European welfare states - Are the two compatible?

On May 2nd, CEPS kicked off a new series of “MEDAM seminars on migration”. The new format bridges academics who have recently published innovative migration-related research with policy-makers from relevant fields.

For the first session, Martin Ruhs, Associate Professor at the University of Oxford, presented his research on the challenges of unrestricted labour mobility in the EU and equal access to national welfare benefits for all EU workers. Fabian Lutz from the European Commission’s DG Home Affairs then offered comments on Ruhs’ findings.

Some interesting points emerged from the interaction between the two speakers. Granting EU workers equal rights could turn into a problem in member states that have both non-contributory welfare systems and flexible labour markets. Whether or not this combination leads to calls for more restrictive access to the welfare state or for restrictions on EU labour mobility altogether depends on a third factor: the sense of feeling ‘European’ relative to the degree of national identity in a member state.

Subsequently the discussion turned to the recent inflows of asylum-seekers into the EU. Inclusive policies towards mobile workers in the EU may have repercussions for the rights of non-EU immigrants as an insider-outsider dynamic develops.