The European Union’s fundamental Free Movement policy allows Europeans from any of the member states (most also apply to Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) to look for employment, work, reside, retire, and access healthcare and welfare in any EU country. According to the European Union’s website, those who may benefit of such a policy include “Jobseekers, EU nationals working in another EU country, EU nationals who return to their country of origin after having worked abroad,” and “Family members of the [preceding].”
This causes two problems.
The First Problem
First, the notion of European “free movement” can not be seen as successful until wages are more-or-less equal in all member states. Before the admission of several Eastern Bloc countries, most European Union nations had a very similar level of pay. However, cracks started to appear in the EU’s idea in 2004. New member states, such as Poland, had, and still have, significantly lower minimum wages, or no law for a minimum wage. For example, based on a 40-hour work week, Poland has a minimum wage of €390 (£296) per month for 2016, whilst the United Kingdom equivalent is £1,072 (€1,408), and £1,152 (€1,513) for those over the age of 25.
Another example of this is seen when comparing France and Bulgaria’s minimum wages. Both countries are treated as equal under the European Union, yet France’s minimum wage for 2016 is €1,466 per month, whilst Bulgaria’s is €214 per month. When the European Union makes it as easy as having an EU passport in order to move from Bulgaria to France, why would a person on minimum wage choose not to? After all, that person has the potential to nearly septuple (seven) their earnings.
The United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics shows that in 2015, 630,000 National Insurance numbers were issued for EU nationals. 297,000 people emigrated, bringing the total of new UK citizens to 270,000, the rest being from outside the EU. This goes far past the “13,000 people” estimate that was issued by Tony Blair’s Labour government. Indeed, in 2013, Professor Christian Dustmann, the man behind the report Labour used for the 13,000 figure, questioned whether any politicians read the report. He claims that his estimation was based on other EU countries not restricting access to their labour markets, something Germany did more-or-less instantly. In an interview with the BBC in March 2013, he said: “everybody expected other countries, in particular Germany, would likewise open up their labour markets.”
The Second Problem
Secondly, due to the Free Movement policy, there is no restriction on the type of job or qualifications an EU citizen may hold. This means 5,000 labourers from Eastern Bloc countries could come to the UK when what’s really needed is 5,000 doctors from India or outside of the EU. Each member state sets a target level for migration, and with the EU taking up ~65%, it means there’s not enough ‘slots’ for highly skills workers from outside of Europe.
At least two-thirds of trusts and health boards in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service currently report that they are struggling to cope due to a chronic shortage of qualified staff. Tens of thousands of new nurses and doctors are required to sustain the ever-growing and ageing population. Meanwhile, the situation in schools in not much better with the government missing recruitment targets for four years in a row. Over 28% of secondary-level physics lessons are now taught by teachers with no more than A-level qualifications, according to the National Audit Office. The Department of Education “has a weak understanding of the extent of local teacher supply shortages and whether they are being resolved,” the report said.
According to the EU’s own figures, in 2013 the UK saw the highest levels of immigration in the EU. Over 526,000 immigrations were recorded; 201,000 from inside the EU, 248,000 from outside.
So, while some may consider it to be a good thing that citizens from any EU country can live and work in any other EU country, there are two flaws that means no reasonable person can see the system being able to sustain itself in the long term. A chronic shortage of under-skilled workers means that those from poorer countries outside the EU, but with higher qualifications, may be losing out on the chance for a new life and to bring good skills.