EU commissioner warns on xenophobia
Virulent debate on immigration should be toned down, as EU citizens have the right to look for work in other countries, László Andor tells Emerging Markets
European governments need to detoxify the migration debate and stick to fact-based communication with their citizens, László Andor, the European Commissioner responsible for employment, social affairs and inclusion, told Emerging Markets.
As the economic crisis has a real impact on jobs and growth across the European Union, Southern and Northern European countries have experienced a rise in nationalist politics to varying degrees.
In some places this has been manifest as a backlash against immigrant labour from the newer accession countries, and against what has been dubbed benefit tourism in the United Kingdom, which has seen anti-immigration politicians gain ground in local elections and prompted a shift in rhetoric by mainstream parties.
Free movement is a fundamental right in the European Union, Andor said in an interview. I think no government should engage in scaremongering, which even unintentionally can boost a xenophobic approach to this, and can undermine this commitment to free movement.
Unemployment, and particularly youth unemployment, has risen to unsustainable levels in much of Southern Europe. In Greece, 64% of under-25s are currently out of work, despite the government cutting their minimum monthly wage to 500. Several of the accession countries and others on the EUs neighbourhood also continue to experience high and persistent joblessness.
There were transition periods set before citizens from Bulgaria and Romania, the newest and poorest EU members, were given full access to labour markets in other countries, in part due to fears in Northern Europe that their membership would spark mass migration. Those restrictions expire in January, prompting a wave of fearful headlines in the UK about an influx of jobless migrants coming to take advantage of the British welfare state.
|More from Emergingmarkets.org|
|Read the latest news stories here|
|Click here to read the latest features|
|Register for free to receive the weekly newsletter|
Fears over immigration were articulated in other Northern European countries. Home affairs ministers in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands have all called upon the European Commission to be tougher on benefit-seekers moving around the bloc.
Andor said that the restriction period was in place so that wealthier nations could prepare for migration, and that critics of the system should be aware that there are already EU rules preventing this kind of practice.
Benefit tourism, is an expression that actually only exists in the UK, he said. I think no other country uses this expression. People in other countries speak about migrating poor.
Other countries, he said, do not assume immediately that the poorer person who comes from another country is coming simply to take advantage and cheat you.
On Wednesday the European Commission released its 2013 EU Citizenship Report, setting out 12 steps to allow Europeans to make better use of their EU rights, and in particular to look for jobs in other member states.
Among other things, the report calls for an extension from three to six months of the unemployment benefits jobseekers receive from their home country while looking for a job in another EU state.
The measures are understood to be aimed to helping relieve unemployment, particularly in Spain and Greece where half of all young people are unemployed. Andor said there was a chance that it could help to reduce some of the ill-feeling, as unemployed migrants are supported by their home, rather than their host country.
I hope it helps, he said. But it doesnt substitute for governments decent approach and fact-based approach.
- Follow us on twitter @emrgingmarkets