Viviane Reding’s criticism of David Cameron’s concerns about immigration show how completely out of touch she is with voters. Reding, the Vice-President of the European Commission, is reported to have said ‘free movement and the supposed invasion of people who want to take advantage of social security and of the health system is an invention of politicians who like to have populist movements in order to win elections’. Can it be that Reding is a secret supporter of Nigel Farage? Her comments, hot on the heels of her decision to press ahead with proposals for a European Public Prosecutor’s Office despite the opposition of 14 national parliaments to the scheme, are surely designed to enrage the British public and drive voters into the arms of UKIP?
Whilst I believe the UK will remain an open economy and society that welcomes hard-working and aspiring people from across Europe, to hide our heads in the sand and pretend that the free movement of people across the EU does not come with some negative consequences is utter nonsense. The issue of immigration is one of the biggest concerns of taxpayers across many EU countries, and the impact on wages, access to benefits, and ‘social dislocation’ all need to be addressed in the context of large scale migration in the EU.
The failure of the Labour government to introduce transitional controls when eight new countries from Eastern Europe joined the EU in 2004 was a massive mistake, as many in the Labour party have now acknowledged. This government is right to do what it can in the short term to mitigate the potential impact of migration, especially given the expiration of transitional controls on citizens from Bulgaria and Romania on 1 January this year. It is also right to stimulate a debate across the EU about more far-reaching changes to the rights of free movement.
The Fresh Start Project, set up in September 2011, has called for the application of subsidiarity in the area of access to benefits to ensure that free movement of labour does not become free movement of benefit tourism. Member states must be able to decide who should be allowed to access their welfare.
Andrea Leadsom is the Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire and co-ordinator of the Fresh Start Group.