Work Packages

WP7 – Politics and institutions

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The current rules governing ‘free movement’ in the European Union (EU) give citizens of EU Member States the right to move freely and take up employment in any other EU country and – as long as they are ‘workers’ – the right to full and equal access to the host country’s welfare benefits. This combination of unrestricted intra-EU mobility and equal access to national welfare states challenges long-standing theories and claims about the alleged incompatibility of open borders and inclusive welfare states (e.g. Freeman 1986). Does the free movement of workers in the EU show that this alleged incompatibility between immigration and the welfare state can be overcome?

EU Member States have in recent years been engaged in divisive political debates about the future sustainability of ‘free movement’ in its current from. Some Member States, most notably the UK but also including Denmark, Netherlands and Austria, have called for more restricted access for EU workers to welfare benefits. The UK justified its call for reforming free movement by arguing that Britain’s welfare state is fundamentally different (‘less contributory’) and ‘exceptional’ compared to the welfare states of other EU member states. Many other EU countries have been opposed to reform, insisting that free movement – including EU workers’ access to national welfare states – must remain based on the principles of non- discrimination and equality of access. The perceived failure of the British government to convince the rest of the EU to reform free movement, or to recognize the UK as a ‘special case’ that requires different mobility policies, was a major factor in the UK’s referendum vote to leave the EU.

The research for this work package analyses the impacts of national institutions and social norms on EU Member States’ national policy positions on (reforming) free movement as well as their broader policy responses to intra-EU mobility. More specifically, the research analyses, theoretically and empirically, the roles of three types of national institutions and norms in shaping the ‘national politics of free movement’ in EU member states:

  • the type of national welfare state (e.g. the extent to which it provides non-contributory benefits)
  • the nature/regulation of the national labour market (e.g. the degree of its flexibility)
  • prevailing social norms and public attitudes toward ‘Europe’, ‘migration’ and other (non-migration related) issues such as’ fairness’, ‘deservingness’, etc.

The research project provides theoretical and empirical analysis of the following three sets of questions:

  1. How do the EU28 Member States differ in terms of their welfare states, labour markets and social norms – and how are these institutions/norms related to each other?
  2. How do different types of national welfare states, labour markets and social norms interact with the scale, composition and effects of intra-EU mobility?
  3. How do welfare states, labour markets and social norms affect national policy responses to intra-EU mobility in different EU Member States? What are the implications for the design of common EU policies?

The research includes quantitative analysis of large scale data covering all (or most) EU member states, in-depth interviews with national and EU policy-makers in selected countries, and analysis of relevant laws and regulations. In addition to generating seven working papers and policy briefs, promised as ‘deliverables’ within the Horizon 2020 grant, we expect this project to make a major contribution to ongoing policy debates about how to reform and develop the EU’s common policies on intra-EU mobility and migration more generally.



Working Papers

Indicators of Labour Markets and Welfare States

Indicators of Normative Attitudes in Europe: Welfare, the European Union, Immigration and Free Movement

Understanding the Political Conflicts Around Free Movement in the European Union: A Conceptual Framework for an Institutional Analysis

Reciprocity in Welfare Institutions and Normative Attitudes in EU Member States

Reciprocity in Welfare Institutions and Attitudes to Free Movement in EU Receiving Countries



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