European Western Balkans

Workers or "welfare tourists"? EU Eastern Enlargement and Western Balkans migration

Court of Justice of European Union has enlightened the path toward deeper European integration for a long time. Its judgements have always been taken in order to promote the EU law enforcement and further integration between Member States. In the recently published judgement of C333/13, known as ‘’Dano case’’,  the Court of Justice stated that economically inactive EU citizens who migrate to another Member State solely in order to obtain social assistance might be excluded from certain social benefits.

Two Romanian nationals, Ms Dano and her son Florin, have brought proceedings before the Social Court, Leipzig (Germany), against Jobcenter Leipzig, which refused to grant them benefits by way of basic provision. Ms Dano did not enter Germany in order to seek work there and, although she is requesting benefits by way of basic provision which are only for job-seekers, it is apparent from the case-file that she is not seeking employment. She has not been trained in a profession and, to date, has not worked in Germany or Romania. She and her son have been residing since at least November 2010 in Germany, where they live in the home of Ms Dano’s sister, who provides for them. Ms Dano receives, for her son, child benefit amounting to €184 per month and an advance on maintenance payments of €133 per month.  The Court of Justice points out that, under the directive, the host Member State is not obliged to grant social assistance during the first three months of residence.

After the decision was announced on 11th of November, several Member States, especially ones who want to push for stricter rules regarding immigration and social benefits, are calling on changes in the current legal framework in order to make the eligibility for social benefits more difficult for potential welfare recipients.

Since the European Union was established, there are several process that occurred so far, but none of them were bigger than the so-called ‘’Eastern Enlargement’’ when 10 new member states, mostly from central and eastern Europe joined the EU. This enlargement was followed by 2007’s enlargement when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU. This process undoubtedly created a new situation in the EU, since EU now consists of 28 members and the citizens of new member states are now European citizens, and by having this status they have a legitimate right to move and work to other member state countries.

But, the most important issue here is answering the question if these immigrants are moving in other countries to work or to become ‘’welfare tourists’’ and benefit from generous welfare systems of western and Nordic countries.  The ‘’welfare tourism’’ concept was introduced by the British Prime minister, David Cameroon, assuming that immigrant flows in UK from eastern European countries who recently joined the EU are happening due to social benefits, not working opportunities.

At this point, maybe Mr. Cameroon has been rushing with conclusions, since the evidence from the EU tell us something different.  But,  he was right about the fact that the EU enlargement has raised the immigration flows from new to old Member States.  This fact had been foreseen by several studies conducted before the 2004’s enlargement happened. Most of these studies predicted that 2-4% of the population of new member states will move to the EU15 countries in the long run. These predictions were partly confirmed after the 2004’s enlargement. Migration rate from new to old member states has risen since enlargement, but on very modest level, not as predicted. According to European Commission’s evidence from 2006, ‘’migration flows between the EU8 and EU15 member states have been quite modest on average’’.  Because of the fear of migration flows, most of the old member states imposed the so-called restriction measures on labor market, in order to control the migrant workers. Even though these measures can take up to 7 years to be implemented, none of the countries imposed them for the whole period of time.  Despite imposing these measures, most of the countries needed extra labor force in different fields, mainly in production, agriculture and medicine. Because of this fact, most of the countries opened their labor markets early enough to allow citizens of new member states to immigrate and seek for a job there. So, the measures imposed in the beginning did not have impact on immigration and did not prevent immigrants from moving to another country.

The fear of negative impact in wages and labor market in the old Member States appears to be a myth. This issue was used especially in political grounds by right wing and euro-skeptic  parties claiming that the immigrants would misalliance wages, will ‘’steal’’ jobs from natives and will bring negative effects to the economy in general.  As shown above, migration flows from new to old countries raised after the enlargement, especially from Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Polish immigrants choose especially UK to go and work; therefore a lot of Polish workers got employed, mainly in agriculture and construction. Mostly Irish workers previously did these jobs, so there were voices saying that this will have negative effect on Irish economy. But, because of the cheaper labor force the UK could get now, the Irish workers found new jobs that were also better paid. So, as an overall effect, the UK did not have any decline in their labor force, Polish workers could easily get jobs in UK and the Irish workers were not influenced by this immigration flow because they found better and well paid jobs.

The most important finding in regard to welfare immigration and EU enlargement is that the immigrants moving from new to old member states are strongly attached to the labor market, and they are unlikely to be among welfare recipients. Based on researched conducted in most of the old member states, especially in Ireland, Germany and Sweden, the migrants tendencies for welfare support might be high in the beginning when they migrate, but by the time passes, they start to integrate more and more in the society and become part of the labor market. Based on what we have shown so far in this session, the readers can observe that all facts from researches and little empirical evidence we have regarding this issue show us that the biggest interest of the migrants from new member state countries was finding a job in the old members, not becoming ‘’welfare tourists’’.  As a final conclusion, the EU enlargement did not have negative impact on old member states because of migration flows from new member states. To the contrary, economic migration typically contributed to a more efficient allocation of production factors, most notably human capital, thereby improving the prospects of economic circulation and youth mobility aspects of migration. EU enlargement shifted the migration from classical working class immigration, to the so-called brain drain immigration, since now younger and highly educated people tend to migrate more in other countries to pursue their professional career. In a word, things have only improved regarding this issue.

As we saw, the EU enlargement did not create a lot of troubles regarding social benefits.  The ‘’Dano’’ judgement delivered by the Court of Justice made it clear that Member States can refuse to give social support to persons who become unreasonable burden for the social system. Now it seems to be pretty much clear who can get social support within the EU.

But, what is the situation with the Western Balkans citizens? All of the states in this region are currently on the way of becoming a Member, and except Kosovo who currently has the status of potential candidate, the other ones (Albania, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro) are already candidates.  And except being left behind in the process, in Kosovo seems to be the most difficult situation regarding this issue. Kosovo’s citizens are the only ones who can’t visit Schengen area countries without visa, and number of asylum seekers from this country is growing.  According to latest reports from domestic media, a lot of Kosovo citizens are leaving the country in order to seek a better future in one of the EU countries.

Serbia and Macedonia got ‘’free access’’ to Schengen Area in the end of 2009, but this did not include the right to work in the EU. Still, based on reports from the EU and Switzerland, there were many cases where Serbian and Macedonian nationals were caught working illegally in the western countries. Because of this, European Parliament threatened these two countries with removing the right of free movement to Schengen Area. However, this never happened, and governments of these two countries took appropriate measures to end this phenomenon, as well as asylum seekers.

The news we get from Balkans shows us that citizens of this region sees the EU labor market as a solution of their economical problems. Based on EU reports from 2013, 16% of the total asylum seekers in the EU are from Western Balkans countries. Despite relatively big number of asylum seekers from the Balkans, most of them actually aim the labor market, not the social benefits from EU countries.  In the other hand, the EU is trying hard not to allow immigration flows from this region, but the results on this issue are yet a matter of discussion.

Author: Artan Murati

Related posts

Shadow report “State of Democracy in Serbia 2018” now available online


Serbian institutional fight against corruption: Point blank shot?

Filip Mirilović

Another election cycle in Serbia passes by, but the problems of Bosniak community remain

Sofija Popović