Lifting all work restrictions for Bulgarians and Romanians on 1 January 2014 has caused fears that citizens of these countries might move to the UK to claim benefits, with David Cameron calling for limits to the freedom of movement.
Britons themselves make widespread use of their right to live and work in EU countries: Spain’s Costa del Sol and the Balearics attract the biggest number of UK expatriates (400,000), followed by 150,000 living in France and 100,000 in Germany.
In the UK: Germans and French outnumbered by Poles
On the other hand, roughly the same number of German and French citizens leave their home countries to settle in the United Kingdom in company of more than 100,000 Italians and Portuguese.
However, those four nations’ emigrants combined are outnumbered by more than half a million Poles living in the UK.
The most recent ONS figures also show that in 2011, three years before the freedom of movement was extended, just below 50,000 Bulgarians and 80,000 Romanians were granted permission from the government to legally live in the UK.
A far greater number of citizens from these two countries moved to other European countries, with around one million Romanians choosing Italy and more than 800,000 emigrating to Spain.
Bulgarians’ most popular destinations were Spain, Germany and Greece – countries that had lifted restrictions on the freedom of movement, which has come under critic from David Cameron, earlier than the UK.
Referendums reduce policies to “Yes or No” (CC Nils via Flickr)
Negotiators in the German coalition talks have suggested to give German citizens the possibility to vote on major EU issues in referendums, a move aimed at restoring trust in the EU’s democratic legitimacy.
According to media reports, referendums could be hold when new countries join the EU, when Germany bails out other member states or powers are transferred from Berlin to the European Union.
Similar referendums exist in other EU member states, with Britons voting on transferring powers to the European authorities.
Members from both negotiating parties seem to support the suggestion: Conservative interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) and Thomas Oppermann from the Social Democrats (SPD) put forward a paper saying Germans “should be asked directly on European policy decisions of special importance”, the Financial Times reported.
But outside the coalition talks many members of chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU oppose referendums on EU issues. “The proposal won’t see the light of day. We would be reducing ourselves to the level of British policymakers”, MEP Elmar Brok from the CDU told Reuters.
Are EU referendums the way to go?
Many Europeans feel disconnected from the European institutions and complain about a lack of democracy.
Direct democracy would certainly give citizens of EU member states a say about key issues such as new countries joining the European Union or powers being transferred.
However, it cannot replace the mechanism of finding compromises in political institutions in my opinion. I doubt that complicated policies can often not be reduced to a simple “Yes or No” question, but referendums require such questions.
The perceived lack of democratic legitimacy has to be on the agenda of EU institutions, but referendums in single member states should not be the way to solve a European issue. Instead, the discussions should move towards making the existing EU authorities and mechanism more democratic.
EP elections wil be held in May 2014 (CC European Parliament)
The European Green Party has started its online primary election of candidates for President of the European Commission ahead of next year’s EU parliament elections – a process that could be distorted by the nature of online audiences.
In the Green primary election European citizens over the age of 16 can vote for one or two of four proposed politicians, who are then going to run as candidates for the President of the European Commission’s office in next year’s European Parliament (EP) election.
The four candidates the Greens have put forward for the primary election are José Bové from France, Monica Frassoni from Italy, Rebecca Harms and Ska Keller both from Germany.
The Greens are the first European party to put forward such a process. According to the party, it is aimed at giving EU citizens a direct say:
„We believe running the Green Primary will help reduce the gap between political institutions and the citizens. Increasing direct citizen involvement can bring European politics closer to the people.“
The flaw of online audiences
However, the unrepresentative online audience could distort the primary’s results.
According to a study, almost 50 per cent of European Internet users are younger than 35 years, a group that accounts for a much smaller percentage of the European population.
Moreover, citizens in some member states use the Internet a lot less than those in others.
The Internet is a convenient platform to reach a big audience, but the European Green Party cannot expect to get a representative result from its primary online election.
In my opinion, the European Greens’ primary can be a model for the future and open a public pan-European debate, with both regional and demographic Internet gaps hopefully closing in the future.
Next year’s EP election (22-25 May) is the first one since the Lisbon Treaty, which asked for a stronger integration of European citizens as political actors.
The European Commission (EC) has recommended that the European parties decide on top candidates for the EC President, the highest executive power in the EU.
The EC’s recommendation was based on a survey that suggested that 62% of Europeans think having party candidates for Commission President and a single voting day would help increase dropping turnouts (I wrote about this earlier).
The European people’s party, the biggest party in the current EP, has yet to name a candidate. The second biggest party, the Party of European Socialists, announced last week that Martin Schulz is going to run for them.
Young citizens from across the European Union have put forward recommendations to tackle the record youth unemployment. Key proposals include control over a part of the youth unemployment budget, a minimum wage for internships and better recognition of volunteering.
Some 60 young people from different member states came together in Brussels for the Citizens’ Agora 2013, an event hosted by the European Parliament, and decided on several measures (PDF version) to battle youth unemployment.
Although I doubt that a meeting organised by EU authorities can really help Europe’s youth to find a common voice, some of the proposals are definitely interesting:
a minimum pay for internships
professional guidance and a mentor free of charge
mutual recognition of qualifications across all member states (including skills from volunteering)
a European-wide, free of charge, language learning system
a EU platform providing information about career and training opportunities
The heads of the member states will have to prove if they take the young generation’s proposals serious at the conference on youth unemployment in Paris on 12 November.
In any case, a meeting like this can only be a first step in a discussion about European youth unemployment. I consider it essential that young people are allowed to take part in these discussions because they should have a right to decide on their future. However, young people have yet to prove that they can play a constructive role in policy-making and not only demonstrate on the streets.
Youth unemployment in the European Union is now at a record-high of just above 23 per cent, according to Eurostat figures. In the crisis hit countries Greece and Spain over half of the under 25s are without a job, while only Germany and Austria have youth unemployment rates under 10 per cent.
Video about the Citizens’ Agora (by the European Parliament):
Ricardo Rosas, 22, employed, from Spain: “I think that the EU should push member states to put in place concrete measures for young people who have just finished university and lack work experience.”
Jan Verlaak, 24, employed, from Belgium: “An entrepreneurial mind-set around Europe should be created and the mentalities changed: it’s not only about strict measures.”
Junior Sikabwe, 23 from Denmark, doing an unpaid traineeship: “I don’t think the EU can do something very concrete, but it could set a framework of how to fight youth unemployment. Problems are different in each country. There is no unique solution.”
Guillaume Vimont, a 31-year-old job seeker from France: “The EU must fight against tax evasion and fraud. It represents a lot of money today that could be used for other things.”
Tania Del Sarto, 27, employed from Italy: “The problem is that education is far from the demands of the labour market. We need to change that. Schools in Italy do not reflect real life and real jobs.”
Maria Djurhuus Petersen, 27, employed, from Denmark: “The internships are both a solution and a problem. The EU should try to push countries to provide more useful internships and transform them into real jobs.”
What should the European Union in your opinion do to fight youth unemployment?
The unemployment rate in the European Union will stay around 12 per cent until 2015, although the EU has reached an economic “turning point”, according to commissioner Olli Rehn.
In fact, the European Commission’s economic forecast, which was presented today, supports Rehn’s statement, predicting the eurozone’s GDP to grow by 1.1 per cent in 2014 and 1.7 per cent in 2015.
Europe’s jobless, however, will have to wait until the strengthening economy will affect them: The unemployment rate, currently just above 12 per cent, will drop slightly to 11.8 per cent by 2015.
“We are seeing clear signs of an economic turnaround but growth will pick up only gradually and will translate into jobs only with lag and that’s why we cannot yet declare victory and we must not fall into the trap of complacency”, Rehn said at the presentation of the newest forecast.
While Rehn focussed on the positive aspects of the economic recovery, experts are less convinced of the progress made. ING chief economist Carsten Brzeski told EUobserver that the commission forecasts “reflect the sad truth about the European recovery. It is a very slow, fragile and anaemic recovery.”