Free Movement in Europe: Between Old Ghosts and New Beginnings
January 6, 2020
The European Union is one of the world’s most ambitious free mobility systems. It allows Europeans to move for love, work, retirement, or just to expand their horizons, all with minimal cost and effort. The complex framework of legislation behind this free movement has sought to remove barriers to mobility by making it easy for mobile Europeans to get their qualifications recognised, identify jobs and opportunities, and bring their acquired benefits and pensions with them to another country. But free movement has also attracted criticism. At different points in its half-century history, concerns have been raised that variations between countries in terms of wages, opportunities, labour market institutions, and social benefits systems have created incentives for some people to attempt to ‘game the system’, caused brain drain in countries of emigration, entrenched existing socioeconomic imbalances, and generally created ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ among the countries and population groups involved.
A large-scale European initiative, known as the REMINDER project (Role of European Mobility and its Impacts in Narratives, Debates, and EU Reforms), provides new evidence of how free movement is working as it matures. By testing long-held assumptions about the fiscal impacts of intra-EU mobility and their relationship with public trust, and by exploring mobility’s effects on both sending and receiving countries, studies undertaken as part of this project highlight how free movement is much more multidimensional than the simple picture many European policymakers and members of the public have become familiar with. This report showcases key findings from across the REMINDER project and offers policy options that could be used to make free movement operate more smoothly and offer greater benefits to a greater number of people.