Being able to move and work freely across all the EU states is a fundamental right for EU citizens from all 27 countries.
But although in theory the lights are green for go, the reality doesn’t always match up. And EU citizens sometimes don’t understand their rights in their host countries.
The Netherlands opened its doors to workers from central and eastern European member states in 2007, three years after the enlargement of the EU. At one paprika farm, almost all the workers are Polish, like Martyna. She came here to earn enough to finance her studies in Poland. As citizens of the EU, Polish people don’t need work permits, just a passport or a simple identity card.
350,000 eastern Europeans currently live in the Netherlands. And during the economic crisis, the risk of discrimination has risen. The tone and content of Geert Wilders’ website is a good example of this. His People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is a xenophobic, anti-European far right organisation which accuses EU workers from central and eastern Europe of stealing jobs from the Dutch.
Rob Rombout is the director of a company which recruits east European workers. According to him, this is nonsense.
Migration within Europe can be multi-faceted. Most people manage very well, but others run into huge difficulties. In Heindoven, one information centre tries to help. The director, Sonja Driesson, has also founded an association, Migrada, to defend their rights.
At the top of the list of problems is the right to social security. If you pay contributions in one country, what happens when you move? The situation is particularly difficult for Romanians and Bulgarians. The most recent additions to the EU, nine member states, including the Netherlands, still apply work restrictions to these citizens in the form of work permits.
12 million Europeans currently live in other countries within the EU, which is only 2.5% of the total population of the EU. And even the best informed and qualified citizens trip over administrative barriers in their host countries.
Understanding rights relating to social security, health insurance, registering a car, getting residency for a non-EU spouse… these issues still aren’t easy for people who move within the EU.
In Brussels, the ECAS organisation, with support from the European Commission, gives advice and information on the rights of EU citizens. Claire, an information officer there, answers questions from all over Europe, and thinks that Member States are putting up increasing numbers of barriers for EU migrants.
The intransigence and incomprehension of the Belgian authorities have created problems for this family living in Brussels. Parents of one child, Dafydd ab Iago and his wife are fighting to be able to give their second child the same name when he or she is born in June. The father has Belgian and British nationality, and the mother is Spanish.
Dafydd ab Iago explains: “We have three different nationalities in the family so our child is also Spanish and in Spain, they have two surnames. They have the father’s surname and the mother’s surname, and that is our problem. There is a Belgian law, it is a Napolonic law and it’s still there influencing Belgian law, which basically says that the child must have the father’s surname and there are no exceptions to that. The European Court of Justice seems to have been really clear on it. It is ridiculous and it is a discrimination to give the same child different names in different countries. That is a restriction on your right of free movement. How do you prove that you are just one and the same person if you you have passeports with different names on them?”
Evidently there’s still a long road to travel before EU citizens can really work and travel freely across the whole Union.