An answer can be found on free movement, if only political leaders had the courage to look for itby Ian Dunt / August 31, 2018 / Leave a comment
“Kick out European Union migrants after three months if they can’t find jobs after Brexit” is not, admittedly, a typical Remainer headline. But peer closely at it and you can see a clue to how soft Brexit could be delivered.
It was tweeted out last month by the Sun newspaper, as part of a story on business needs after Brexit. The content matters less than the tone, though. The important thing is that it sounds tough, appropriate for a snarling anti-immigration red-top tabloid and the kind of thing Leave voters want to hear. It is also completely consistent with staying in the single market.
In 2010, a 25-year-old Romanian woman called Elisabeta Dano travelled to Leipzig with her son, and moved in with her sister. She didn’t know it yet, but she was going to play a small but important role in Europe’s constitutional history.
After a year or so, she applied for benefits, but the Jobcentre refused her. She could speak German and was fit for work, they pointed out, but she hadn’t looked for a job. They weren’t having it. She issued a legal challenge against the decision to the local court. They passed up a few questions to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which amounted to a stress-test of free movement rules.
What does free movement mean in practice? How extensive a right is it exactly? After all, the Treaty of Rome, which founded the EU, does not mention freedom of movement—it mentions freedom of labour. You can move countries to work, but that right is subject to tests.
The European court found that the German authorities had behaved within the law. It was a decision with far-reaching repercussions. Domestically it kept a lid on complaints about free movement. Had the court ruled the other way it would likely have boosted those complaining about immigration to Germany.
But importantly it also clarified the rules on free movement: you have three months to find a job when you move to another EU country. After that, you need to show that you have the funds to sustain yourself or it’s time to pack your bags. There was no legal requirement for the state to pay you benefits during that period.
It remains, to this day, an utter bafflement that David Cameron did not make more of this case. For all his complex wrangling…