Monday, January 25, 2016

How free is free movement in Europe?

Just today, one of the editors of German Frankfurter Allgemeine, praises the "unhindered freedom" of the European Union, and laments that this freedom, peace and prosperity "are seen as self-evident" (or given) and as "costing nothing".

The passive voice is a wonderful mechanism for dodging specifics.

Which segment or segments of the European population sees these achievements as "given"? Young people? Don't we teach them history anymore, or if we do, don't we believe our teaching makes a difference?

Let's see what the European Commission says about free movement: "Citizens of the EU and their family members have the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the EU, subject to certain conditions".

Article 6: EU citizens can reside on the territory of another EU country for up to three months without any conditions other than the requirement to hold a valid identity card or passport.

Now, let's see how U.S. citizens compare: A U.S. citizen can stay in the EU for up to 90 days without a visa. Having sufficient funds is required by law, but nobody checks as long as you are in possession of a return ticket and are not flagged as potentially undesirable.

90 days is three months (give or take a couple of days), which means that EU citizens are - in practice - not better off than U.S. citizens as far as the duration of an unconditional stay is concerned.

A variety of restrictions of free movement of citizens of new EU member states seeking work in other EU states existed over the years, for example for Polish citizens looking to work in the UK. Most restrictions are now gone, but restrictions still apply for citizens of Croatia with regard to working in several other EU countries. Germany lifted restrictions on Croations in 2015, the remaining countries will follow by 2018.

Once the initial three months are over, EU citizens can reside in another EU state if they
1) have work or
2) possess sufficient funds & have health insurance

If you are a U.S. citizen, getting a job in Europe may not be easy, so EU nationals have a distinct advantage there.

As a US citizen, if you have sufficient funds and health insurance, you have are in an excellent position to retire in Germany or another EU country. You are, in fact, in a better position than poor EU citizens.

EU citizens can get access to the social system of their new country of residence, which means does represent the first real advantage over a US citizen moving to Europe. However, access to the social services of the new country come with a whole slew of restrictions, such as a wait period of six months or more. In addition, the United Kingdom is currently planning to restrict in-work benefits for migrants from other EU countries.

The heated debate about these British plans is summarized nicely in this BBC article.

German politicians, notably some social democrats, have also put plans on the table to limit benefits for other EU citizens. This article (in German) in spiegel online explains some proposals.

Current media focus on the danger of collapse of the "Schengen zone" (no passport or ID checks are performed when traveling from one Schengen state to another) is misleading in this context.

The conditions for taking up residence in a Schengen country are not predicated on the convenience of crossing the physical border. This being said, the absence of border checks in the Schengen zone has been significant as a symbol of free movement.

Even the blogster exclaimed: Well, this is nice! when first crossing into France this way. Schengen made the mandatory stop at the California checkpoint on Interstate 5 coming from Oregon appear even more quaint than before.

Yes, California has Border Protection Stations (BPS)!

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