Anti-migration and anti-EU parties made strong gains in the European Parliament elections last week. Although mainstream centre-right and centre-left parties topped the polls in most countries, there were “political earthquakes” in France, the UK and Denmark, with the anti-migrant Front National, UK Independence Party and Danish People’s Party each coming first in their respective countries with over 25% of the vote.
Martin Schulz, the European Parliament President and centre-left candidate for the next President of the European Commission, described the result as “a bad day for the European Union,” while Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front, claimed the vote showed her country demanded politics “of the French, for the French, with the French.”
It’s a nice line, but what does it mean in practice? Is it time for governments to take a tougher line on migration within the European Union, even if it means putting up restrictions to the “freedom of movement” enshrined in the EU treaties? Would that be enough to reassure voters that their concerns are being taken seriously? Or would that undermine everything that European integration stands for?
Last year, when we debated the issue of so-called “welfare tourism” in the EU, we looked at a report published by the Commission suggesting that the vast majority of migrants moving from one EU country to another pay more into welfare systems than they take out. In response, we had a comment sent in from Paul who said that he heard this loud and clear, but he didn’t care:
There is NO acceptable level [of welfare tourism in the UK]. Even one person who comes to our country with no intention of contributing to society is one too many. That one person is depriving someone who works and pays their way of what they are entitled to.
Nobody should be allowed to enter the UK without proof that they are able to support themselves, and as a lifelong UK taxpayer I’m perfectly entitled to say that.
We recently spoke to László Andor, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion. Mr Andor is currently taking the British government to the European Court of Justice because of complaints from EU nationals who live in the UK and have been denied welfare payments, including child benefits and jobseeker’s allowance. They argue they are being asked to submit to additional checks to support their welfare claims that UK nationals pass automatically, something Mr Andor says contravenes EU rules on non-discrimination.
We asked him to respond to Paul’s comment:
We also had a comment sent in from Paola who argued that migration was more a political than an economic issue, and governments have no choice but to be seen by voters to be tough on migration during an economic downturn:
I think the issue [of migration] is more political than we think, in the sense that we all agree there is no real budget impact, but which European government would want its voters to see that it is spending resources on immigrants rather than on its citizens, especially considering the cuts in resources and the heavy sacrifices imposed?
Can Mr Andor understand this position, and perhaps even sympathise with it?
Do governments have no choice but to be tougher on EU migration? Would that be enough to reassure voters that their concerns are being taken seriously? Or would that undermine everything that European integration stands for? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.