Much, if not all, of the discussion about immigration in recent days has barely mentioned migration from the European Union, which, given the scale of such migration, was an oversight.
Freedom of movement is sacred in Brussels – and indeed elsewhere on the continent. But the times they are a changing. The accession of Bulgaria and Romania has alarmed leaders on the frontier between old and new Europe, in capitals like Berlin, Stockholm and Copenhagen, where there is concern about the effect of a further wave of immigration on employment and public services.
The think tank Demos says, in its response to the EU Balance of Competencies Review, that David Cameron should conspire with these nations to twist the European Commission’s arm. The Times reports that Demos recommend that:
- A two year limit on benefit payments to migrants.
- Reserve apprenticeships for British trainees.
- Examine employment tax breaks.
- And, most controversially, countries should be barred from the free labour market until their economies reach 75% of the EU average. This is to stop the export of unemployment.
These suggestions are incompatible with European law, to say nothing of European philosophy. Cameron’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to convince Brussels that such changes must be made. The director of Demos, David Goodhart (who was the lead speaker at a recent Spectator debate on the effects on immigration, which you can listen to here), says, ‘The price the EU pays in terms of unpopularity and mistrust is too high for the relatively modest economic gains associated with unqualified free movement.’
Indeed, but there is another side of story. The British government makes no secret of its determination to make the single market operate effectively and liberally. How would Brussels react to the view that we and other privileged countries deserve special treatment? And Brussels might also point to Britain’s recent enthusiasm for EU enlargement and ask: what did you expect? Is our position as strong as Demos supposes?