Colin Hines argues for an amendment of the treaty of Rome
Thursday 22nd June
What a relief to read the letters from Dick Taverne and others saying that Brexit should be fought rather than meekly accepted as inevitable (Letters, 19 June). However, I’m afraid that none of your correspondents mentioned the key change required before a “remain and reform” package has a cat’s chance in hell of succeeding in a second referendum. That is the need for the EU to amend the treaty of Rome to allow member states to decide how many people they want to come into their countries. The usual defeatist response to this is that the treaty of Rome’s four freedoms are somehow immutably writ in stone. Yet when researching the practicalities of a transition to a treaty of “home”, prioritising the protection and rediversification of European economies, I sited a range of EU leaders and institutions calling for a rethink of this issue.
Michael Heseltine has suggested that Macron and Merkel might team up to offer a deal on immigration such that the UK could stay in the EU. Were Labour to champion such an approach, it would appeal to voters by emphasising UK training programmes to eventually fill the jobs that might otherwise be taken by new EU migrants. But most importantly, the party should emphasise its belief in internationalism by bringing to an end the permanent theft of the brightest and the best from generally poorer countries whose taxpayers have paid for their education, but who are denied the benefits of it through migration.
East Twickenham, Middlesex
For the rest of the Guardian letters on this issue see https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jun/21/there-are-ways-to-manage-immigration-and-still-stay-in-the-eu
Excerpt from ‘Reversing Brexit with a Treaty of ‘Home’ quoted in letter:
For the Free Movement of People -The Political Times They Are A Changing
Free movement is a founding principle of the EU, enshrined in the treaties in 1957. But it is not an unconditional right. To be lawfully resident in another member-state, EU citizens need to be working, studying, or able to prove that they are self-sufficient……..With the rise of populism and the EU’s sagging popularity, the era of extending free movement rights has come to an end – just as the UK is leaving the EU.
What Free Movement Means To Europe And Why It Matters To Britain, Centre for European Reform, 19 January 201718)
It may be too late for the British government to use this widespread climate of concern about migration in order to lead a debate that change is needed in the common EU rules implementing free movement principles. On the other hand, pressure from populist parties to change the status quo has never been higher and is likely to have an impact on national policies after elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany.
Reform or Reject? Policy Network And Open Britain, March 201719)
The free movement of people is being reconsidered across Europe and could therefore be a crucial first step to changing the Treaty of Rome to a Treaty of ‘Home’. This would be a huge shift and a decade long transition mechanism is likely to be necessary to fully achieve it. This could start with a 10 year brake on uncontrolled immigration. There is a precedent of a kind here with the transitional provisions of the EU enlargement process which allowed for restrictions on the free movement of workers from the new EU member countries for a period of up to 7 years.
It is not just the extending of free movement rights that is coming to an end, the discussion across Europe is increasingly one of putting more constraints on internal migration. There has been much detailed analysis of the changing views of European Governments towards the question of the free movement of people since Brexit and Trump and the rise of Marine Le Pen and other far right parties.20)
A reformed, Europe-wide approach to free movement could include some of the policies agreed by the EU27 a year ago during David Cameron’s renegotiation, such as an emergency brake on benefits paid to migrants. They also agreed it is legitimate to take measures where an exceptional inflow of workers from elsewhere in the EU is causing serious problems to a MemberState’s welfare system, labour market or public services. The potential of these were seen as significant on the Continent, since this demonstrated that national discretion in the application of EU rules can be permitted.
The German parliament is just passing a five-year ban on all benefits for non-German EU citizens 21) and other examples of support for such an approach were listed in a recent Policy Network report. 22) The previous Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher stating that “support for free movement is crumbling when people see that it turns out to be so unfair” and Britain leaving the EU “gives a unique opportunity to do this in a very different way”. Former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, have called for debates on the application of the free movement principle.
The European Commission has recently tightened up its rules on access to social security, saying that Member States may decide not to grant social benefits to mobile citizens who are economically inactive, meaning those who are not working nor actively looking for a job, and do not have the legal right of residence on their territory. The EU Commission’s Vice-President Jyrki Katainen has talked of understanding the “unwanted consequences” of freedom of movement.
The Social Democrat Austrian Chancellor, Christian Kern, has called for the EU to reconsider freedom of movement rules and in particular consider discrimination in favour indigenous job-seekers. He has proposed a system whereby “only if there is no suitable unemployed person in the country can [a job] be given to new arrivals without restriction”.
Given this it is small wonder that the former UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stated ‘There’s plenty of politicians across the European Union who are now volubly saying that they think there needs to be a change to freedom of movement. So there is scope for a Europe-wide approach to this which I think would satisfy some of the government’s needs.’ 23)
Indeed Sir Vince Cable who was business secretary under the previous UK coalition government went further in stating that “There is no great argument of liberal principle for free EU movement; the economics is debatable; and the politics is conclusively hostile….I have serious doubts that EU free movement is tenable or even desirable,” Indeed Cable didnt just advocate controls on migration, he also argued that it should be matched by controls on capital to halt the takeovers that he described as suffocating the innovative companies on which the country’s future depends. 24)
One final and significant straw in the wind concerning changing attitudes to the free movement of people came when Jean-Claude Juncker the president of the European Commission presented five options on the EU’s future in a White Paper to the European parliament in Brussels. This occurred a few weeks before the summit in Rome at the end of March, when as has been noted 27 heads of state and government will debate the EU’s future and celebrate its 60th anniversary of the bloc’s founding treaty.
Juncker hopes EU leaders, who are deeply divided on migration and the eurozone, can sign up to a plan before European elections in 2019. Interestingly in terms of the free movement of people was that one of the options included focusing the EU on the single market and allowing common foreign and migration policy to wither. It included: ‘There is no shared resolve to work more together in areas such as migration, security or defence…. the free movement of workers and services is not fully guaranteed… There are more systematic checks of people at national borders due to insufficient cooperation on security and migration matters…Migration and some foreign policy issues are increasingly left to bilateral cooperation’. 25)