Changes and Challenges of Cross-border Mobility within the European Union

by Trine Lund Thomsen (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 234 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Preface
  • Contents
  • Chapter 1 EU Mobility under Pressure in an Increasingly Closed Europe (Trine Lund Thomsen)
  • Chapter 2 Stealing Jobs and Benefits: Bulgarians and Romanians in British Print Media (Denny Pencheva)
  • Chapter 3 Two Sides of the Baltic Sea: Lithuanians as Labour Migrants and Mobile EU Workers in Sweden (Indre Genelyte)
  • Chapter 4 ‘So Most People Say: Why Don’t You Go Home? Why Are You Doing This? They Feel Kind of Pity to See People Living Like This’: West African Migrants between Agricultural Exploitation, Informal Street Work and Homelessness (Kristine Juul)
  • Chapter 5 Should We Stay or Should We Go? – A Longitudinal Study of the Significance of Affiliation to the Danish Labour Market and Linked Lives for Outmigration Patterns for European Immigrants in Denmark (Ruth Emerek and Rasmus Juul Møberg)
  • Chapter 6 Work Environment and Health among Migrant Workers (Kurt Rasmussen and Karin Biering)
  • Chapter 7 Virtual Communities and the Pursuit of a Higher Quality of Life: Understanding Internet Communication Technologies and Social Media Use among Romanian Migrants after Migration to Denmark (Sahra-Josephine Hjorth)
  • Chapter 8 Accumulation and Conversion of Migrants’ Capital through Cleaning and Construction Jobs in Denmark (Doris P. Simkunas)
  • Chapter 9 Precarious Working Lives – Migrant Workers’ Experience of Working Conditions in the Danish Labour Market (Anna Helene Meldgaard Pedersen and Trine Lund Thomsen)
  • Bionotes
  • Series index

Trine Lund Thomsen

Chapter 1 EU Mobility under Pressure in an Increasingly Closed Europe


Since the beginning of the 1990s, restrictions on freedom of movement and choice of residence of EU citizens have been progressively lifted. The Bologna Process was implemented in 1999 in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) as a means to ensure more comparable, compatible and coherent systems of higher education in Europe. A few years later, the Directive 2004/38/EC introduced new and more liberal rules for movement across borders for work and taking up residence in another EU country. Many obstacles to mobility have thus been abolished or reduced since the establishment of the principle of the free movement of citizens for the purpose of work or study. The legal developments, which have promoted the right to free movement, have affected the lives of European citizens in one way or another, empowering them to cross national borders, to benefit from equal treatment and to have the opportunity to live abroad. Access to welfare benefits in host countries was also made easier, although it continued to be tied to certain requirements (Ochel 2007; Sinn 2005). However, due to the economic crisis causing anti-EU sentiment and increased nationalism, what has been understood by some as progress towards a more integrated trans-EU system has for others fuelled the debate about rights and access to welfare service and benefits. The principle of free mobility can thus lead to strengthened European integration as well as disintegration and increased national protectionism. The purpose of this chapter is to address challenges and opportunities of free labour mobility in the EU with the purpose of framing the current situation and future avenues. The introduction also frames the conditions and themes addressed in the respective chapters in this book. The overall themes and concepts include EU mobility, social networks, labour market participation, social inclusion/exclusion, inequality and precarity.

The European Union guarantees all EU citizens the right to freedom of movement which acts as one of the four pillars of the EU Single Market. It was introduced in order to remove barriers of an insufficiently integrated market economy in the EU by improving possibilities of matching labour supply and demand (Gáková and Dijkstra 2008). However, patterns of contemporary mobility and ←9 | 10→international migration are shaped by a multitude of factors, e.g. political, socio-economic, geographical, demographic and cultural, and the potentials of the freedom of movement within the EU are far from realised. The immigration policies offer some legal, social and political rights to EU citizens who exercise their right to move freely (Geddes 2008). Yet the tendency of internal EU mobility has been relatively low despite the increase of mobile EU citizens. This tendency applies to both the new and the old Member States regardless of their economic development and the openness of their labour market (Barslund and Busse 2016). Institutional structures and individuals as well as the social networks that evolve in the wake of migratory movements shape migration flows. Social networks arising from migratory processes have important influence on the long-term outcomes of social integration. As migratory movement has always caused demographic development, technological change, political conflict and welfare challenges (Castles and Miller 2009), this phenomenon is a highly sensitive political topic with a wide range of challenges and concerns for both exiting and entering countries.

Even though free mobility in recent years has gained increasing focus (Grieco and Urry 2012), the post-enlargement EU mobility still needs empirical support – both at the micro level of life experiences and at the macro level of welfare challenges and policy frames and existing mobility programmes (Thomsen 2010; Favell 2008). The terms ‘free mobility’ or ‘free movers’ only refer to EU citizens as compared to non-EU citizens, who would be categorised as migrants when moving to and within the EU countries. EU citizens crossing borders for employment or educational purposes are often confronted with multiple disadvantages due to insufficient information about the conditions and regulations in the countries of entry, language difficulties, discrimination and social exclusion (ILO 2013). On the one hand, European societies encounter challenges related to the demographic changes of ageing populations and a declining workforce (Holland and Paluchowski 2013). On the other hand, the high unemployment rates among especially the youth group in many European countries, particularly Southern European countries, have consequences for their financial situation.

The primary reason for the intra-EU mobility has mainly been and continues to be employment. Better economic and occupational opportunities and living conditions (increased earnings, chances of getting a job or career developments for themselves and their family) are at the heart of most migration (Papademetriou 2012). In addition to employment, the movement of people may be due to study, family purposes or retirement. The outcome of labour mobility and immigration is largely dependent on the reason for migration and language skills.

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There are several variations across countries and across different groups that influence the decision to seek employment in another EU country: being young, highly educated and living in a city are attributes associated with mobility (Pascouau 2013). Conversely, various factors make it more difficult to move, like having children, being a member of a dual-earner household (decision to move must be based on two careers) and owning a house (Bonin et al. 2008). Other obstacles include difficulties in transmission of skills/qualifications, benefits and family ties. Language, history and geographic distance play an important role in the choice of destination country: Irish workers often emigrate to the UK as well as the US and other English-speaking countries while Portuguese workers often move to Spain and Estonian workers go to Finland. Currently, the causes and decision frameworks of migration are less studied empirically than the economic impacts of resulting flows (OECD Economic Surveys 2012). High unemployment, particularly among young people, and relatively low labour mobility (compared with other regions such as the US and Australia) within and between many of the EU countries co-exist with skill and labour shortages in some countries and regions. This indicates inexpedient national labour market policies, such as high costs of exit and entry, training mismatches or disincentives to participation and barriers to labour mobility. Furthermore, policy-induced barriers to mobility increase the cost of moving for individuals such as the loss of pension entitlements, lack of recognition of qualifications, inaccessibility of some public sector jobs and housing market frictions (OECD 2012).

Despite the freedom of movement in the EU region, the labour markets are still fragmented, and the overall mobility between the EU countries are in most cases relatively low compared to other forms of migration; only 2.5 % of EU citizens live in other Member States, while 4.1 % of EU residents are from outside the European Union (Benton and Petrovic 2013). In recent years, intra-EU mobility has seen significant changes due to the economic crisis: emigration has increased from several of the countries worst hit by the crisis, mostly because of the increase of unemployment or lack of qualified jobs (Eurostat 2016). Despite the relatively low-scale mobility, attitudes towards mobile workers are often rather negative, which Brexit is an extreme example (Wadsworth et al. 2016).

Prior to the EU enlargement, labour mobility was mostly small scale and regional (such as countries that had historical ties and bilateral agreements). Following the EU enlargements in 2004, 2007 and 2013, a larger number of Central and Eastern Europeans (CEE citizens) have moved from East to West, especially to countries that chose not to restrict access to their labour markets. ←11 | 12→In the wake of the economic crisis in 2008, an increased number of Southern Europeans have been moving from south to north due to lack of employment possibilities in their home countries.

Consequences of Intra-EU Mobility

Cross-border mobility in the EU region is still in many ways challenged by national regulations and restrictions causing structural barriers. Those reduce efficient use of labour resources in a time of globalisation and demographic change and hinder an important adjustment mechanism in the region. For the EU as a whole, cross-border labour mobility offers on the one hand a number of advantages by allowing a more efficient matching of workers’ skills with job vacancies and facilitating the general upskilling of the European workforces (Barslund and Busse 2016; Heinz and Ward-Warmedinger 2006). On the other hand, the free mobility and the social rights of EU citizens may increase unemployment rates among national workers and to various degrees challenge the welfare systems in the different EU countries. In Denmark, as in other EU countries, a main challenge of EU citizens’ right to welfare benefits is linked to the perceived phenomenon of welfare tourism, which causes increased national protectionism and anti-immigration sentiment and reduces the public support of the European Union (Jørgensen and Thomsen 2016). The welfare tourism narrative is, however, not documented. On the contrary, research shows that welfare tourism is not a real problem, but rather that EU labour mobility is an economic advantage for the destination countries (Dustmann and Franttini 2014). In Estonia, as in many other exit countries, the challenge is quite different as the main concern is the emigration of the youth population causing a deficit of especially high-skilled workers. Various challenges pertaining to mobility are present in all EU countries and on all levels of society, and it is therefore crucial to develop ways of protecting states, markets and individuals. Development of sustainable social policies is dependent on the institutional mobility system facilitating efficient mobility structures that ensure equal opportunities in the respective destination countries.

The acquisition of European mobility depends to a large extent on various domains in the different EU countries. In order to identify both promoting and obstructing mechanisms at national levels, it is crucial to investigate various relevant domains. These domains provide together a basic frame for studying the intersection of various relevant key categories such as skills, employment, nationality/ethnicity, age and gender.

Fig. 1 Analysis of labour mobility

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Fig. 1 illustrates layers and domains that are central to the analysis of labour mobility. The rationale is that the success of mobility and social integration depends partly on the individual factors, such as skills, social capital and motivation for mobility. In turn, this is influenced by the situation in the exiting country, and partly by the characteristics and the policies and regulations of the welfare state and the labour market in the entering country. The intersection of individual characteristics may be perceived as more or less positive in the country of destination, making some groups less advantaged than others.

Despite the freedom of movement of EU citizens, many administrative obstacles are still hampering mobility. Policy-induced barriers to mobility such as the loss of pension entitlements, differences in national regulations of professional qualifications, inaccessibility of some public sector jobs and of the housing market increase the cost of migration for individuals (OECD Economic Surveys 2012). Thus, the persistence of national forms of labour and housing market regulations, welfare state and fiscal systems constrain mobility between EU countries (European Commission 2010). Concerning labour market access, the major barriers are related to the recognition of professional qualifications and skills, cross-country information about job vacancies and difficulties in obtaining employment in the public sector.

The profile of mobility has changed in the last decades in ways that provoke challenges for existing labour market structures as well as for family structures, i.e. more women are engaged in mobility. It can, however, be argued that the importance of female migration and mobility lies not merely in their increased ←13 | 14→numbers but also in their actual position in the types of labour market and welfare system domains (Kofman 2012). There are, however, still more gender-related barriers for mobility that highlight the need for promoting flexible working hours as well as the mutual recognition of diplomas and professional qualifications, and improvements of child-care facilities and services for families need to be made in order to facilitate equality in mobility in the EU (Ronzulli 2013). The potential mover from both old1 and new2 EU Member States tends to be younger and better educated than the native population (Zaiceva and Zimmermann 2008). However, young men and women are confronted with increasing uncertainty in the achievement of a satisfactory transition in the labour market, which might have damaging effects on individuals, communities, economies and societies. The significant categories underpinning EU mobility are those of skills, gender and age. These categories are essential to incorporate in order to enable a more holistic understanding of the complexity of labour mobility within the European Union.

There are three aspects of recent developments of migration policy, which are particularly important because they affect opportunities and challenges of EU mobility. The first aspect is that labour migration policies are increasingly driven by sector-specific considerations. Second, labour migration policies are influenced by developments associated with globalisation and Europeanisation and third, the migration industry, private actors and agencies play a more pronounced role in facilitating or detaining the flow of migrants (Menz and Caviedes 2010). These three aspects represent in various ways aspects of glocalisation in the way that global and local developments become mutually interrelated (Bauman 2013). This development in the European region has in various ways both intended and unintended consequences for the respective Member States and their labour markets.

Welfare States, Labour Markets and the Liberal Paradox

In most EU countries, including Denmark, there have been heated debates, public as well as political, concerning labour mobility in the EU. Some claim that CEE migrant workers are a burden to the destination countries’ economy, produce competition for jobs, cause unemployment and social dumping and put pressure on social benefits and housing. Other voices express that the free labour mobility is a benefit for the economy of the destination country and may help solve labour market bottlenecks. Indeed, much research shows that CEE migrant workers provide an economic contribution to the destination country. As mentioned earlier, studies also show that welfare tourism is not an actual ←14 | 15→problem as CEE workers contribute more to the national welfare system than they withdraw/claim.

Immigration and integration policies are to a significant extent mediated by the structure of the welfare state (Koopmans and Statham 2010). Esping-Andersen has distinguished between three types of welfare state on the basis of their degrees of ‘decommodification,’ which occurs when a service is rendered as a matter of right, and when a person can maintain a livelihood without reliance on the market (Esping-Andersen 1990). Decommodification entails both the scope of welfare state entitlements and the provision levels of these entitlements. In Esping-Andersen’s typology, ‘social democratic’ welfare states have the highest level of decommodification, ‘liberal’ welfare states the lowest and ‘conservative’ welfare states intermediary levels of decommodification. There is a tendency of a higher employment rate in countries with more flexible and open labour markets, as for example in Ireland and the UK, than in countries with more regulated labour markets such as the Scandinavian countries (Aleksynska and Tritah 2013). Flexibility of labour markets is primarily measured on two parameters: the employment protection legislation index and the density of trade unions (Corrigan 2013).

A common challenge of the welfare states is the so-called liberal paradox where the economic logic of liberalism is one of openness, but the political and legal logic is one of closure (Hollifield 2004). This dilemma is particularly present in the ‘social democratic’ welfare states, where the access to and level of social welfare services are quite high. Instead of upholding the Universalist principle embedded in the Nordic welfare state model, public policies and the attribution and redistribution of public goods and rights are increasingly developed within a hierarchical system of civic stratification legitimising welfare chauvinism as a political strategy (Jørgensen and Thomsen 2016). This causes unequal opportunities and conditions for mobile and migrant workers in different ways in comparison with national workers due to regulations. International economic forces (trade, investment and migration) have been pushing states towards greater openness, while the international state system and powerful (domestic) political forces push states towards greater closure (Jørgensen and Thomsen 2016). This is a liberal paradox because it highlights some of the contradictions inherent in emerging migration state liberalism. Migration is in this optics a challenge, in the sense that the movement of individuals across national boundaries can violate the principle of sovereignty which requires a degree of territorial closure (Hollifield 1994b; Joppke ; Sassen 1996).

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Transnational Mobility and Social Networks

The perspective on transnational movers and transnational social fields in this connection aims to address the relation between spatial mobility and social mobility (Faist 2006; Savage 1988). Existing networks facilitating mobility, spreading information about job possibilities, housing, transportation, etc., often shape migration flows and opportunities (Glick-Schiller, Basch and Blanc-Szanton 1992). The social networks in transnational social spaces link together the country of entry and the country of exit (Faist 2006). Transnational social space is primarily a means to sustain ties and relations of geographically mobile persons, networks and organisations border-crossing multiple nation-states (Faist 2006, 2010).

Transnational mobility may in some cases be an avenue for social mobility, particularly for women from countries where their opportunities are blocked (Favell 2008). Based on this assumption, it is important to explore further whether spatial mobility leads to social mobility through skills acquisition or to underemployment and social immobility. Access to the labour market and socio-spatial inclusion are often assumed key elements of effective and successful participation in the destination society. However, in relation to this assumption it is interesting to ask how different forms of mobility constitute societal values and sets of relations, elements of participation that may become important for social inclusion. Labour mobility may therefore be perceived as covering other forms of mobility that are important to pay attention to in order to provide understanding of the ‘success’ of labour mobility, being the connection between spatial, occupational and social mobility.

Labour Market Participation and Social Inclusion

Much has been written about the East-West migration since the EU enlargements and the expected flows of CEE workers to other EU countries (Favell 2008; Friberg and Eldring 2013; Hansen and Hansen 2009; Thomsen 2012). Adrian Favell states that ‘East European migrants are in fact regional “free movers” not immigrants, and with the borders open, they are more likely to engage in temporary, circular and transnational mobility, governed by ebb and flow of economic demand, than by long-term permanent immigration…’ (Favell 2008). The free movement within the EU has to a certain extent provided hyper-flexible labour, working under all types of arrangements and conditions (Anderson 2007). There are, however, indications of suboptimal benefits from mobility of the young European population due to both the relative low mobility rate and the mismatch of skills.

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Match of skills is an increasingly important factor of the highly specialised labour markets in the European region. Two types of skills match/mismatch are particularly important in relation to labour mobility. Firstly, there is the significance of match/mismatch between the supply of and demand for skills based on comparison of educational attainments of the employed and the unemployed. Secondly, there is the match/mismatch between the skills possessed by mobile workers and those required by employers (ILO 2013). Skills may be divided into three levels of an educational pyramid with the low skilled at the bottom, semi-skilled in the middle and highly skilled at the top.

Fig. 2 Educational pyramid model

Concerning the second type of mismatch, there is a tendency of CEE workers to be overexposed to underemployment (or overqualification), while they are less likely to be underqualified. An International Labour Organisation (ILO) report on Global Employment Trends for Youth (ILO 2013) suggests that a consequence of the economic crisis is an increasing number of particularly young individuals with higher levels of education taking jobs that they are overqualified for, which also may imply a crowding out effect of national citizens at the bottom of the educational pyramid.

The employment crisis in the EU concerns not only unemployment as many workers also struggle with irregular and precarious employment, underemployment and underutilisation as well as exploitation. Within the EU, skills, qualifications and competences are to various degrees recognised across Member States depending on type of sector and transferability of human capital (Chiswick ←17 | 18→and Miller 2009). There are, however, still barriers in the respective national labour markets and education systems that make labour mobility less accessible. In many European labour markets, there seems to be two trends co-existing in the shadow of the economic crisis: one being lack of skilled workers in some EU countries and the other being the high level of unemployment of skilled workers in other EU countries (Ruhs 2011). This mismatch of skills is of great concern to workers, employers and governments who have a mutual interest in more sustainable labour markets.

Labour market actors, including governments, companies and workers, need to ensure that occupational requirements are matched through adequate education and training. The extent to which this process is successful is a major factor shaping labour market outcomes, economic growth, productivity and competitiveness (ILO 2014). If workers are overeducated for the jobs they perform, for example, this means that firms are not fully utilising the productive capacity of their workers, while undereducation means that firms are not operating at their productive frontier by employing less productive workers than they should. Inefficiencies can arise both in the labour market (the demand for and supply of workers/skills) and in the interaction between the labour market and the education and training system. In either case, the resulting skills mismatch will impose costs on individuals, enterprises and societies. Skills mismatch is an encompassing term, which refers to various types of imbalances between skills offered and skills needed in the world of work. The regular statistical programmes of most countries per se do not measure skills and competencies. That is why skill proxies are used, such as qualifications and years of education at the supply side, and occupations at the demand side (Statistics Brief 2014).

In an economic downturn, the young and the migrant employees are frequently the first to be laid off – partly because they are often on fixed-term contracts or other temporary employment arrangements. In many cases, this is the result of rigid employment structures for older staff who cannot simply be dismissed when new orders dry up. In other types of national labour markets, as for example the flexicurity model in Denmark, there are other challenges prevailing, one of them being social dumping. The flexicurity model is best characterised by a triangle. It combines 1) flexible hiring and firing with 2) a generous social safety net and 3) an extensive system of activation policies. Even though Denmark has a social democratic welfare state, the Danish model has resulted in low (long-term) unemployment rates, and the high job flows have led to high perceived job security (Eurobarometer 2010; Jorgensen and Madsen 2008). Social dumping caused by the EU enlargements has become an important EU as well as national issue whose consequences still need to be further ←18 | 19→investigated (Bernaciak 2014). The significant differences within the EU countries regarding composition of labour costs and labour market regulations contribute to potentials for social dumping. A low level of education is another contributory factor. However, well-qualified young people – notably in Ireland and Greece – are also experiencing the consequences of high unemployment (Bräuninger and Majowski 2011). Well-performing labour markets are important for facilitating adjustment to economic downturn, uneven supply and demand of labour and skills and in response to potential labour market shortages related to ageing populations (Holland and Paluchowski 2013). Mobility within the EU does to some extent help fill labour market shortages. However, in the wake of the economic downturn in Europe, the labour market and social conditions remain challenged, causing and increasing social inequalities.

Dimensions of Inequality and Precarious Working Lives

Labour inequalities are increasingly shaped by the reception of different groups of movers and migrants in the respective national societies and their welfare state models. Even though the different welfare states in the EU provide various degrees of social security, they do not necessarily secure social equality. Thus, social inequality will, in various ways, stipulate a sense of subordination and lead to different forms of struggle related to recognition, representation and redistribution. The three forms of struggle are responses to the transformation towards a more emancipated, egalitarian society (Standing 2014). Struggle for recognition is based on achieving social acceptance and valuation as belonging to a distinctive group. This form of struggle concerns the identity that the individual strives to construct or maintain in the destination country (Honneth 1995). For migrant workers, obtaining occupational identity may be a struggle in itself because they are often underemployed (Aleksynska and Tritah 2013). As earlier mentioned, limited or lack of access to certain occupational positions that the individual is qualified for causes mismatch and underutilisation of qualifications. For EU citizens in general and CEE citizens in particular, mismatch and overqualification cause struggles for recognition. Recent research shows that migrant workers are more likely to be both under- and overeducated than the native workers for the jobs that they perform (Aleksynska and Tritah 2013). Over time and accumulation of labour market experience, migrant workers do to some extent converge to the standard of the native born. Overeducation is to some degree determined by the destination country’s economic conditions and labour market institutions. Immigrant-specific policies in destination countries may positively affect the overall matching. At the same time, however, other policies, such as ←19 | 20→those improving eligibility or aimed at antidiscrimination, may aggravate overeducation by attracting a wider range of educated immigrants (Aleksynska and Tritah 2013).

Struggle for representation refers to attaining an independent, distinctive and effective voice at an institutional level. The long-term, open-ended process of globalisation is as much cultural and political as economic, spurring intensification of struggles for recognition, in particular around religion and ethnicity. The cultural effect of this development has brought on a new perception of proximity of ‘the other’ and intensified the concern about difference (Fraser and Honneth 2003). In both the short and the long term, labour market inequalities lead to inexpedient consequences for individuals, groups of individuals and societies. Inequality in labour opportunities is often rooted in perceptions of difference in terms of entitlement and deservingness. The distinction between being deserving or undeserving of social benefits such as unemployment benefits is perceived as depending on the degree of initial economic self-support and based on the principle of earning your entitlement by contributing to society before claiming benefits (Schneider and Ingram 1997). The attitude towards migrants’ right to unemployment benefits is partly linked to an economic contribution rationale that influences the politics of redistribution.

Various forms of ‘flexible’ labour are growing around the world. In that process, the precariat performs an increasing and high ratio of work-for-labour to labour itself. It is exploited as much off the workplace and outside remunerated hours of labour as in it. That is one factor that distinguishes it from the old proletariat. The precariat has distinctive relations of production, and these are what most commentators have emphasised in discussing the precariat, although they are not actually the most crucial for understanding it. Essentially, their labour is insecure and unstable, so that it is associated with casualisation, informalisation, agency labour, part-time labour, phoney self-employment and the new mass phenomenon of crowd-labour discussed elsewhere (Standing 2014).

The experienced precarious working conditions play a role in relation to workers’ construction of their identity (Standing 2009, 2014). Precarious working conditions are formed by a structure and social position that permit vulnerability far beyond the size of income at a certain time. A characteristic of precarious working conditions is precisely that it is not the size of the salary or income earned at a certain time that is crucial but the lack of community support and solidarity (Standing 2011). Precarisation in work deals with uncertain and difficult conditions. As a political term, precarity refers to living and working without any guarantees, for example the uncertain residence status for immigrants and refugees. Unsafe working conditions refer to all forms of ←20 | 21→insecure, non-guaranteed, flexible exploitation: from illegal, seasonal and temporary employment for flexible and temporary work to subcontractors, freelancers or so-called self-employed. Although the Danish labour market is generally more regulated and less liberal compared to other European countries (Refslund 2015), issues such as lower wages, lower levels of trade union membership and lower levels of social rights (pension, accident insurance, etc.) are also a growing problem in the Danish society as well as in other European societies.

Precarious working conditions also play a crucial role in relation to the affected workers’ identity, meaning that the uncertainty and insecurity are part of a survival mechanism (Standing 2009, 2014). Employees in less career-oriented jobs such as the construction industry and the service industry are facing growing absence of stable policies and stable norms of behaviour, reciprocity and solidarity (Simkunas and Thomsen 2018). Precarious conditions can be characterised by a lack of or insufficient degree of various types of security.

The increase of transnational processes also questions the premise of the welfare state system based on exclusive, indivisible citizenship, determined by nationality and territorial residence (Fraser and Honneth 2003). The concerns of the sustainability of the welfare state are based on the premise that the welfare state is under great pressure caused by increased labour migration primarily caused by the EU enlargement and the free mobility of its citizens possessing extensive rights to welfare services.

Concluding Remarks and Summing Up

This introductory chapter has outlined some of the main challenges and opportunities of the free mobility in the EU and the impact it has on individuals, institutions and societies. The conditions are framed by a multitude of political, socio-economic, geographical, demographic and cultural factors, which to various degrees have an impact on the success of EU mobility. The political frames on both EU and national levels have an important impact on both the reception and perception of labour mobility within the European Union.

Many challenges are identified in the numerous research carried out on labour mobility in the EU region. One of them is the perceived phenomenon of welfare tourism, which, however, is not documented. On the contrary, research shows that welfare tourism is not a real problem, but rather that EU labour mobility is an economic advantage for the destination countries. It is, however, still the welfare tourism narrative that dominates the discourse in many of the destination countries. The narrative of welfare tourism causes increasing national protectionism and anti-immigration sentiment and reduces the public support of the ←21 | 22→European Union. It is therefore essential that research results are communicated to the broader public and contribute to the political debate.

A challenge related to the free mobility of EU citizens is also that of gender-related barriers. This highlights the need for promoting flexible working hours as well as the mutual recognition of diplomas and professional qualifications, and improvements of child-care facilities and services for families need to be made in order to facilitate equality in mobility in the EU.

Another inequality concern for EU citizens in general and CEE citizens in particular is qualification mismatch and overqualification that cause struggles for recognition. Recent research shows that migrant workers are more likely to be both under- and overeducated than the native workers for the jobs that they perform. The mismatch of skills is of great concern to workers, employers and governments who have a mutual interest in more sustainable labour markets.

Inequality will be an important public policy issue for years to come in the EU, and hopefully research will promote further understanding of some of the underlying issues and provide useful information for the development of effective policy solutions. Development of sustainable social policies is dependent on the institutional mobility system facilitating efficient structures that ensure equal opportunities in respective destination countries. This is an ongoing challenge for facilitation of successful labour mobility in the EU.

The chapters in this book address and discuss selected themes and concepts related to changes and challenges of cross-border labour mobility within the EU as presented in the introduction. Even though there is an overall EU framing, the chapters focus on specific country cases and most of them on Denmark. The first four chapters address issues related to labour mobility within the EU, whereas the last four chapters focus on labour market participation, working conditions and social inclusion.


1 1. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom.

2 2. Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia.


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Denny Pencheva

Chapter 2 Stealing Jobs and Benefits: Bulgarians and Romanians in British Print Media


It has been convincingly argued that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was the watershed event which transformed migration from humanitarian into a security concern (Huysmans 2006: 65). Ever since, the European East-West relations have been a curious blend of excitement, emancipation and concerns regarding the viability of the political project that is the European Union (EU). The Eastern enlargement of the EU is particularly politically significant because it has posed new challenges and questions about the nature, as well as future of Europe. It formally began in 2004 with the accession of ten countries (EU 10): Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. One of the objectives of the Eastern Enlargement was to regularise the irregular status of many Central and Eastern Europeans (henceforth, CEEs) who were present in large numbers in old Member States, such as Germany, Austria and Great Britain (Fassmann and Munz 1994; Markova and Black 2008; Wallace 2002).

Intra-EU migrations have resulted in a significant rise of mobility between Member States, estimated at approximately 3 %, up from 0.1 % prior to the three rounds of Eastern Enlargement (Sanchez in Arcarazo and Wiesbrock 2015: 90). Such vast population movements have brought numerous economic opportunities and benefits but have also presented some old Member States with challenges. For example, in 2011 Spain reintroduced labour market restrictions for Romanian nationals only, due to security concerns over the integrity of its national labour market (Arcarazo and Martire 2014). In the Nordic countries, the sheer number of arrivals has raised worries over the ability of the state-regulated labour markets and welfare systems to adapt to the new pressures (Jørgensen and Thomsen 2016). A particularly salient issue in public debates has been around the rise of Roma beggars in France (Balch et al. 2014) and Sweden (Pollack and Roosvall 2015). Whilst the political and public anxieties that the UK has experienced are not an isolated phenomenon, there are particular concerns about ←27 | 28→the quality of the debate in the UK, in which there are increasing references to security-related arguments in regard to EU migrants (Balch et al 2014).

Bulgaria and Romania (EU 2/A2) joined the EU in January 2007 amidst political and societal anxiety regarding the larger than expected numbers of CEE migrants, mainly Poles, that arrived in old Member States, like Britain, Germany and the Netherlands. Unlike in 2004, when it was only Britain, Ireland and Sweden that adopted an open-doors approach to potential labour migrants from the new Member States, Bulgaria and Romania were subjected to harsher immigration control policies in the form of restricted and conditional access to the British labour market for a full period of seven years. During this time, Bulgarians and Romanians were free only to undertake employment as self-employed; otherwise, they were required to obtain various work permits. Issues around rights and conditions of employment and lack of border controls, as well as putting pressure on welfare provisions and public services such as housing, schools and the National Health Service (NHS) were high on the political agenda and increasingly articulated in security terms.

Research Design

The research is theoretically informed by the work of the Copenhagen School on securitisation. The work of the Copenhagen School (Buzan et al. 1998; Wæver et al. 1993) is related to the so-called broadening of the security agenda, which began during the 1970s when changing geopolitical realities not only disembedded the concept of security from the military sector, but also led to the re-conceptualisation of the very nature of the relationship between state and society. There was a new focus on societal security, with a particular emphasis on identity and discursive constructions of threats and vulnerabilities: What is it that threatens ‘us’ and what should be done to ensure ‘our’ survival?

Sampling and Data

The corpus consists of 918 items or 567,449 words. This includes news articles, political commentaries and editorials. Six national newspapers were selected and sampled via LexisNexis UK: three tabloids (Daily Mail, Sun and Daily Mirror) and three broadsheets (Times, Telegraph and Guardian), including their Sunday editions. The editions were selected due to their nationwide circulation and readership. Data has been stored and coded in NVivo 10. Additionally, the research made use of Sketch Engine: an online software which is useful for quantitative linguistic mapping of data, i.e. for generating concordances and word sketches. ←28 | 29→As this research is particularly interested in discourse production, Sketch Engine has proved useful in determining which areas within said discourse have gained extra salience in news coverage across the editions. Additionally, the tool is helpful in reducing the risk of bias and selectivity, as well as omitting potentially important aspects when working with news content (see Baker et al. 2008). Following the sampling, coding and mapping of the data, the empirical materials were organised and analytically presented using a thematic analysis (Bryman 2012).

The sampled years – 2006 and 2013 – are defined as years of transition. The year 2006 is just two years after the largest EU enlargement so far when ten countries joined the Union in 2004. There were already extensive debates regarding the unforeseen numbers of Eastern Europeans, mostly Poles, who sought employment in the UK due to its open-doors policy. 2006 is also the year before Bulgaria and Romania were scheduled to join the Union and, perhaps ironically, the European year of mobility (see in Balch and Balabanova 2014: 3). 2013 is the year before the transitional work restrictions were about to be waived, thus granting Bulgarian and Romanian nationals full access to the UK labour market. It is also worth noting that in July 2013, Croatia joined the EU.

Whilst both years provide a valuable opportunity to study the development of public debates on immigration, they differ in terms of political contexts. In 2006, the Labour government’s ‘managed migration’ approach emphasised the economic benefits of intra-EU mobility as a way of resisting the politicisation of migration issues (see Ibid; Fox et al. 2012; Somerville 2007). However, amidst strong critique from the opposition, migration issues remained high on the political agenda. Following the 2010 general elections, the new Coalition government (Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) has been explicit in its desire not only for controlling, but also for substantially reducing the levels of EU migration. Additionally, there has been reported a sharp increase in the volume of newspaper coverage relating to migration since the election of the Conservative-led Coalition government in 2010, particularly after the introduction of measures to reduce net migration in 2011 and 2012. Allen (2016) postulates that between late 2013 and early 2014 there has been a spike in discussing intra-EU migration, aided by the waiving of the labour market restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals. The increased political significance of UKIP steering the political agenda towards stronger right-wing populism, the economic crisis, increased levels of unemployment and the impossibility to further restrict access to labour market for EU migrants have created conditions for viewing Eastern Europeans from a perspective of political urgency, as well as increased the resentment towards the processes of EU political integration. Lastly, in both ←29 | 30→years, state-funded media campaigns were launched which aimed at preventing Romanians and Bulgarians from undertaking economic migration to Britain in the first place.

Social Raiders

The theme of social raiders emerged inductively from the examined corpus. In terms of thematic scope, it encompasses a wide array of phenomena and developments: from bogus self-employment via abusing the free NHS to unlawfully claiming assorted benefits. Thus, the core theme of social raiders is not limited to benefits tourism, rather it incorporates different scenarios where Bulgarians and Romanians are portrayed as being interested in cherry-picking various sources of income rather than looking for jobs per se. News items related to access and eligibility for welfare payments, in-work and tax credits, use of NHS services and schools accounted for 35 % of the total sample. Overall, broadsheet editions dedicated more coverage on these topics than tabloids: 43 % compared to 26 %, respectively. Moreover, issues of access and use of welfare provisions were more frequently reported in 2013 by all examined newspapers. A total 20 % of tabloid editions reported on these topics in 2006, whilst in 2013 they dedicated 29 % of their coverage to welfare issues. For the broadsheet editions, the numbers stand at 35 % (2006) and 45 % (2013), respectively. Further, a Sketch Engine analysis revealed that ‘welfare’ appeared frequently in relation to budget reform (indicative of the austerity measures adopted by the Coalition government) and welfare tourism (as pointed out by key modifiers, such as ‘dependency,’ ‘handout,’ ‘tourism’ and ‘curb’). The core theme of social raiders further comprises three subthemes: i) stealing jobs to claim benefits, ii) Roma: the ultimate social raiders and iii) it’s the EU’s fault.

Stealing Jobs to Claim Benefits

This subtheme reveals that Bulgarians and Romanians are stealing jobs in order to wrongfully claim benefits. News coverage includes issues of precarious, underpaid or temporary work and how these are framed as a strategy to access and take advantage of the British social security system. The subtheme points out the important, mutually constitutive relationship between national labour markets and welfare systems and indicates a wide range of activities underpinning the social raiders core theme. Thus, the analysis speaks to a diverse body of literature that seeks to address and unpack the complex relationship between work and welfare.

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The integration of the processes of production and consumption establishes a mutually constitutive relationship between the welfare state and the labour market (Aidukaite 2009: 30; Esping-Andersen 1994). Immigrants play an important role in this relationship by being part in both the expenditure and revenue sides of the welfare state (Gaston and Rajaguru 2013; Kvist 2004; Sinn2002 ). Contemporary demographic challenges, such as ageing populations, humanitarian crises and labour and skill shortages, mean that states are under constant pressure to maintain ‘a sustainable balance between openness and closeness’ of their economies and welfare systems (Nowaczek in Black et al. 2010: 290). Data and scholarship alike suggest that the highly de-regularised nature of the British economy is a symptom of its vulnerability to international economic shocks, the main outcome of which is a welfare system subjugated to the needs of the economy and increasingly polarised in terms of employment opportunities, entitlements and incomes (Rhodes in Scharpf and Schmidt 2000). Further, Kvist (2004: 313) argues that obtaining work in order to gain access to the welfare system of a wealthier Member State, often with the intention of sending the acquired benefits payments back to the migrant’s home country, constitutes a significant challenge for wealthier Member States. These concerns are grounded within the understanding that under permissive migration regimes, the labour markets and welfare systems of the core EU Member States become dangerously exposed to EU nationals from acceding countries, which could encourage the latter to cherry-pick ‘the best mix of benefits, wages, and taxes’ (Ibid: 313).

The relative lack of wealth in the new EU Member States is narrated as a strong push factor for migration, whilst the relative wealth of Britain is articulated as a pull factor. Newspapers from across the spectrum suggest that Bulgarians and Romanians have every reason to want to leave their home countries where their basic needs are not always met.

A feature article in the Sunday Times (29.12.2013) juxtaposes the futile efforts to deter immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania with the desperation of ordinary citizens to abandon the sinking ship in search for a better life in Britain:

A joke doing the rounds in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, maintains that ‘there are two ways out of Bulgaria’s problems: terminal 1 and terminal 2’ (Panchevski and Grimston 2013: 18).

The two Times’ correspondents report from Bucharest and Sofia. The text tells the story of 50-year-old Dorin Cirlan, a retired lieutenant colonel who, 24 years ago, was one of a three-man firing squad that killed Nicolae Ceausescu, the country’s communist dictator, and his wife Elena. Today, the Sunday Times reports, the former national hero ‘sits in his mother’s dilapidated home in northern Romania ←31 | 32→on a military pension of £180 a year.’ Mr. Cirlan is quoted saying that Romania was ‘rushed in too quickly’ into the EU and calls it the ‘black hole in the European Union.’ His pessimism is shared by many younger and educated Romanians and evident by the ‘brain drain’ the country has experienced since its accession to the EU with ‘almost 40 per cent of the workforce’ having left to work in wealthier Member States (Panchevski and Grimston 2013: 18).

The Daily Mail had sent reporters over to Bulgaria and Romania to ask ordinary people whether the British social security system is something they find appealing. The narrative explicitly juxtaposes the poverty and backwardness of the two countries with the generous benefits system in Britain, arguing that this constitutes a ‘massive pull factor’ to the UK. The tabloid alarms that:

people in these two desperately poor countries told our reporter about the lure of the generous benefits system in Britain and of an expected ‘rush’ to bring over their entire families before ‘someone decides to padlock the door’ (Slack 2013: no page).

Further, the Mail quotes a report by the Migration Watch think tank which reveals that ‘unemployment benefit in the UK for a person over the age of 25 is worth £75 a week, which is more than two times the take-home income of a single person on the minimum wage in Romania, and 2.7 times the income of a Bulgarian.’ The political commentary makes a similar observation for child benefit, worth £33.70 per week in the UK, which is ‘the equivalent of more than a week’s wages, after tax, in both Romania and Bulgaria’ (Ibid).

The right to export child benefits outside the UK, as afforded by EU rules (see Nowaczek in Black et al. 2010; Kvist 2004), was deemed problematic. A news article from the Telegraph (04.02.2013) claims that ‘tens of thousands of children who live abroad but receive benefits claimed by immigrant families in Britain are costing British taxpayers more than £1 million a week,’ according to research conducted by right-wing think tank Migration Watch. The newspaper quotes a comment from its chair, Sir Andrew Green, who claimed that ‘it is absurd that child benefit is paid to children who do not even live in the UK,’ especially as UK residents are being hit by austerity measures (Daily Telegraph Reporter 2013: 10).

Political correspondent Jason Groves writes on the pages of the Daily Mail (25.03.2013) that the then Prime Minister David Cameron was determined to ‘to end Britain’s something for nothing reputation’ by demanding that migrants find work within six months of arrival, or otherwise they will not qualify for benefits. Then Immigration Minister Mark Harper described the new measures to be ‘amongst the toughest in the world’ and ‘a response to public fears of an influx of thousands of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria’ as movement restrictions were to be lifted at the end of 2013 (Groves 2013a: no page).

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Low-skilled migration appeared to be a particular problem because it is seen as resulting in ever-greater inequalities in terms of labour market opportunities, welfare and public services entitlements. The Sun’s David Wooding argues that ‘aggressive begging is likely to be increased by those migrants who cannot find jobs – while those poorly paid workers who can, pull down wage levels’ (Wooding 2006: no page).

Sun’s political correspondent Michael Lea praises the Blair government for having ‘slammed the door on a flood of immigrant workers from Eastern Europe yesterday,’ referring to the restrictions imposed on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals. The edition further quotes the then Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling saying that ‘we must take account of people’s legitimate concerns about pressure on public services – and not be filling vacancies that ought to be filled by UK nationals’ (Lea 2006: no page).

A news article from the Times (19.10.2006) reports that the Blair government is taking steps to substantially reduce low-skilled non-EU migration as it prepares to announce curbs on Bulgarian and Romanian workers coming to Britain. The text refers to a speech delivered by Immigration Minister Liam Byrne in which he highlighted the importance ‘of ending all low-skilled migration to Britain’ because ‘migration affects schools, hospitals and other key areas of British life’ (Ford 2006a: 2). In 2013, a news article from the same newspaper (27.11.2013) offers further recognition and validation of public anxieties over potential welfare abuse by EU nationals coming to the UK. The Times quotes then Prime Minister David Cameron who explicitly recognised the negative impact of low-skilled migration on the everyday lives of ordinary British citizens and addressed the ‘fears of an influx from Bulgaria and Romania’ by announcing further restrictions for EU citizens who want to access the British welfare system. Cameron revealed ‘a package of measures aimed at making Britain a less attractive destination for would-be benefit claimants,’ which included a ban on claiming out-of-work benefits for three months after arrival, a ban on claiming housing benefit, limited entitlement to jobseeker’s allowance and the possible introduction of an income test for those who want to claim any benefits (Elliott 2013: 1,2).

A news article from the Sunday Times (15.12.2013) quotes a leaked government report on various problematic aspects of intra-EU mobility. The report contains proposals for regulating both high-skilled and low-skilled migration, for barring EU nationals’ access to welfare payments for the first five years and limiting all labour movement from poorer countries who are new EU members until their GDP per capita is 75 % of Britain’s. As a result, ‘the government has raised the prospect of a 75,000 cap on annual EU immigration as part of a ←33 | 34→radical change in Britain’s relationship with Europe.’ The report acknowledges the existence of ‘widespread public concern’ about the so-called benefits tourism amongst political elites and the wider public alike. The article adds that the government is ‘very concerned that the relative generosity of our in-work benefits acts as a strong pull factor for migrants and encourages benefits tourism.’ Further, the text cites a polling by Lord Ashcroft (Conservatives) which found that ‘63 per cent believed immigrants were claiming benefits and public services when they had contributed nothing in return’ (Leppard 2013: 11).

In a news article in the Daily Mirror (14.02.2013), David Cameron is quoted reiterating the same utilitarian approach to migration whilst describing Britain as ‘soft touch.’ He asserted that ‘immigrants should not be allowed to take advantage of benefits’ (McTague 2013: 9).

This subtheme also focuses on the human needs of Bulgarians and Romanians. In other words, there are discussions which do not focus on the economic utility of migrant workers but choose to emphasise the fact that these workers also get sick, unemployed or pregnant. These human conditions are used to emphasise actual and hypothetical pressures on the welfare system and public services.

A political commentary in the Mail on Sunday (29.12.2013) quotes a leaked Home Office report which warns of potential tensions between Bulgarians and Romanians and the Poles over employment opportunities at the low end of the labour market, as well as for housing and social services. The newspaper refers to an interview conducted with 53-year-old Sharon McNeil from Maidstone, Kent: one of the constituencies in the southeast with highest concentration of Eastern Europeans. She expresses concerns that ‘there’s no room at the schools or extra places. The services are stretched. At my doctor’s surgery you can’t get an appointment for at least two weeks.’ After briefly referring to a report from the University of Reading which argued that the impact on public services will be limited in the short term as most Eastern Europeans are young, healthy and only rarely bring any dependents, the Mail on Sunday dismisses it and claims instead that:

there will be an impact on schools as one in three Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants are expected to have school-age children – and one in four will have babies – within four years of arriving (Petre and Walters 2013: no page).

Thus, the Mail on Sunday voices concerns that whilst migrant labour could be beneficial under specific circumstances, migrant workers staying and settling down is a different question altogether.

Another aspect of this subtheme that deserves mentioning relates to discussions of issues of bogus self-employment, undercutting wages or ←34 | 35→working for significantly less than the minimum wage as a strategy to claim benefits. Tabloids and broadsheets alike echoed concerns that the vast majority of Eastern Europeans are in low-skilled, low-waged labour, which means that they contribute less in taxes, often live in overcrowded accommodation and run the risk of becoming homeless, thus potentially becoming a burden on the British state.

A news article from the Sun (31.07.2006) claims that Britain’s schools, hospitals and housing are facing a ‘meltdown’ due to uncontrollable immigration. The article claims that the ‘Home Office fears an angry backlash as newcomers grab council houses and NHS beds and force wages down.’ The tabloid quotes a secret Government report, which warns about ‘serious implications for services and community cohesion,’ such as aggressive begging, homelessness, street-drinking and antisocial behaviour (Wooding 2006: no page). ‘Despite repeated assurances that immigration is under control,’ the tabloid continues, ‘leaked papers warn key public services could be plunged into chaos when the next deluge begins’ (Ibid). Wooding, who is the Sun’s Whitehall Editor, argues that Bulgarians and Romanians will stretch the NHS ‘still further’ because they will ‘block beds because they are ineligible for care and benefits once they leave.’ The article also emphasises the inevitable pressures on housing and schools and the need to ‘hire an army of English teachers to help kids who cannot speak the language as well as finding extra places’ (Ibid).

An article from the Guardian’s home pages (06.03.2013) discusses the Coalition government’s welfare reform programme. It quotes then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Ian Duncan Smith claiming that the reforms ‘will make it easier to tackle EU nationals who settle in Britain claiming to be self-employed and seeking benefits’ (Wintour and Watt 2013: 10).

A Sunday Telegraph editorial (01.12.2013) argues that ‘the likely entrance of thousands of poor Bulgarians and Romanians into our labour market in the New Year has raised fears about the pressure on jobs and services.’ The broadsheet goes on to suggest that David Cameron’s proposals for ‘tough curbs on their ability to claim benefits, as well as deportation if they sleep rough’ are a step in the right direction, but not enough for a sizeable group of backbencher Tories who demanded further five-year restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals. The editorial asserts that ‘the PM’s amendment is perhaps an early skirmish in what will be a longer, more complex battle over the renegotiation of our relationship with the EU’ (Editorial, Sunday Telegraph 2013: 29).

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Roma: The Ultimate Social Raiders

The Roma gain peculiar prominence within the theme of welfare and public provisions and are textually portrayed as the ultimate social raiders. They are textually constructed as criminally impoverished, filthy and unscrupulous. The analysis in this subtheme points to an unambiguous process of othering in which the ethnic group is portrayed as the antithesis of Europeanness. The Roma are said to be particularly desperate to take advantage of the British welfare system given their political, economic and social marginalisation in their countries of domicile. They are portrayed as a threat to the British social security system and are accused of bringing in numerous dependents with the sole purpose to claim various benefits, such as unemployment benefits and social housing, and to be treated for free by the NHS. There is also the risk of them exporting dishonestly acquired benefits to their families back in Bulgaria and Romania and the danger of them becoming a more or less permanent burden on the British welfare state. A concordance analysis in the Sketch Engine reveals that welfare fraud is a particularly prominent context within which the Roma are discussed, alongside economic poverty, cultural backwardness, lack of intention of integration and causing various types of public nuisances. Vicol and Allen (2014) have further demonstrated that the most frequent verbs used to describe the Roma in both tabloid and broadsheet editions are ‘claim’ and ‘steal.’

A key difference between Bulgarians and Romanians on the one hand and the Roma on the other is that the Roma are unequivocally presented as benefits scroungers, rather than impoverished economic migrants. The disassociation between Roma and work constitutes a denial of their moral and ethical standing within society and rhetorically strips them of their whiteness and the respectability that stems from having a strong work ethic (Garner 2012). Within the corpus, they are not narrated as economic migrants based on the premise that they have no education or marketable skills and are therefore deemed unfit for needs of the knowledge-based European labour markets (Braham and Braham 2000). Thus, having been portrayed as having nothing valuable to offer, their movement is generally considered not only threatening, but also dishonest.

A special report on the feature pages of the Telegraph (28.07.2013) investigates the un-deportability of Roma ‘beggars’ and ‘benefits scroungers.’ The newspaper argues that in effect, ‘the Home Office has paid for them to go home for a brief holiday’ and under EU free movement regulations is ‘powerless to stop them coming back.’ The text goes on to suggest that the three-month rule could be exploited by ‘Roma men’ who would find a way to ‘be able to claim benefits and access to social housing’ (Mendick and Duffin 2013: 2, 3).

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Columnist Graham Grant writes for the Daily Mail (29.12.2006) that a lot of Romanian Roma intend to ‘target’ Scotland, as soon as the law allows. The text describes a morbid landscape in a ‘rundown, crime-ridden village in remote Romania’ where ‘gipsy Ionel Stanescu is dreaming of a new future.’ The tabloid argues that instead of Scotland’s museums and art galleries, Mr. Stanescu, his wife and two children are ‘anxious to discover its benefits culture’ (Grant 2006: 9).

On 1 January 2014, the tabloid reported on the court case of a Romanian Roma woman named Firuta Vasile who had ‘won the legal right to claim more than £28,000 per year in benefits’ when a judge overruled Bristol City Council. The woman, also known as ‘the Benefits Teacher,’ is portrayed as an influential figure in her community back home for educating other Romanian Roma families how to claim various benefits in the UK. The text quotes an interview with Ms. Vasile’s best friend Nadia Porojan, 29, who said she was inspired by Vasile’s success in taking advantage of the British welfare system. She is said to ‘have already travelled to England in 2012 when she was pregnant so that she could give birth to her third child Shakira in an NHS hospital that August.’ Mrs. Porojan adds that ‘”Firuta told me it would be better to give birth in the UK rather than Romania as it would be easier to claim benefits in the future’ (Martin 2014: no page).

The Telegraph also had sent two special reporters in Bucharest, Romania, to interview members of the local Roma community who have been expulsed from Britain for various fraudulent activities but apparently have all intentions to return in order to continue the profitable business of unlawfully claiming benefits. The broadsheet quotes a comment from Sonia Sandhu, 36, a mother of eight, ‘threatening’ to return to the UK with her children because this is the only way they could make a living: ‘I will definitely go back, no doubt about it.’ The Telegraph offers a rather unsanitary description of the ‘near-abject poverty’ in which the family lives, where ‘children and dogs play in the street, and horses pulling carts trundle up and down’ (Mendick and Duffin 2013: 2, 3).

This subtheme portrayed the Roma minority as the ultimate social raiders, but it also highlighted their multi-layered expulsion: territorial, societal, economic and political, and revealed that the Roma constitute an unreasonable burden even for Bulgaria and Romania. Inter-ethnic relations in Bulgaria and Romania are characterised by general ambivalence and whilst the co-existence of various ethnic groups is formally recognised as a type of multiculturalism, this is not always reflected in policy (Balch et al. 2014).

There is some disagreement as to how sizeable the Romani population is in Bulgaria. According to the latest census in 2011, there were 325,343 Romani people living in Bulgaria, which constitutes 4.4 % of the total population. ←37 | 38→However, according to Eurostat data, that figure stands as high as 750,000 (just over 10 % of the total population (European Commission 2016;; Szelenyi 2001). Many Bulgarian governments during the 1990s have boasted about the so-called Bulgarian ethnic model as an example of harmonious relations between the ethnic majority Bulgarians and the multiple officially recognised ethnic minorities. This sui generis Bulgarian multiculturalism recognised the integrity and difference of the various ethnic and religious groups and was considered a successful case of promoting their peaceful cohabitation, which was to set an example for other post-communist societies (Vassilev 2004: 40; Zhelyazkova 2001). However, whilst important strides were made to facilitate and preserve the ethnic and cultural identity of the Roma community and its right to self-organisation and political representation in post-1989 Bulgaria, the group was subjected to raising public intolerance due to the way economic and welfare reforms were handled by successive governments.

Similarly, there are discrepancies in the estimated size of the Roma minority in Romania. According to Council of Europe estimates, there are approximately 1.85 million Roma in Romania, comprising 8.32 % of the total population (full reports available on ec.europa.eu), whilst the 2011 Romanian census lowers that number to 621,000 people or just over 3 % of the total population (Romanian Census 2011). In an in-depth study of the migrations of Romanian Roma to the UK, Stevens (2003) argues that the socio-economic standing of this minority has been low for centuries. Going back to the 14th century, the author points out that the Roma people were not free: ‘those not owned by a boyar (aristocrat) or by the Church were declared to be the property of the state’ (Ibid: 441), further pointing out that if an ethnic Romanian were to marry such a person, they too became a slave. The communist regime in Romania, much like in Bulgaria, aimed at improving social cohesion by adopting measures, related to employment, education and housing, which were to reduce the social, economic and political distance between the Roma minority and the majority population (Braham and Braham 2000; Crowe 2003; Filipescu 2009; Stevens 2003; Vassilev 2004). Following the fall of Communism in 1989 and the subsequent market liberalisation in Bulgaria and Romania, many of the social security mechanisms that facilitated access to public services for the Roma ceased to exist, giving way to rapidly rising levels of unemployment (Braham and Braham 2000; Crowe 2003; Stevens 2003). Moreover, Stevens (2003: 446) argues that the growing scarcity of low-skilled jobs facilitated and legitimated anti-Roma sentiments in the form of overt ethnic violence but also institutional discrimination.

The complex transition to a free market economy has resulted in the increased decentralisation and privatisation of healthcare, social benefits and education ←38 | 39→provisions, which in reality meant that the already very limited social security payments became available only to the means-tested poor, which happened to encompass predominantly the Roma community (Szelenyi and Wilk in Morgan et al. 2010). This has resulted in intra-societal tensions, as well as growing anger and frustration amongst all social strata that the Roma take advantage of benefits in the generating of which they have not contributed. Matras (2000: 38) argues that the Roma are predominantly seen as benefits scroungers in Romania and are subjected to ‘regular violent attacks by the Romanian population.’ Trapped between the everyday realities of ethnic-based violence and lack of employment opportunities, the Roma are said to be amongst those who were left behind during the economic transition period. The Roma minority in both Bulgaria and Romania continue to occupy the lowest possible social standing, and their socio-economic status has deteriorated after the 1989 transitions (Vassilev 2004: 42; see also Zhelyazkova 2001 and Szelenyi and Wilk in Morgan et al. 2010). This is confirmed by Rudko Kawczynski, president of the European Roma Travellers Forum, quoted by the Times (07.11.2013). Whilst he criticised the ‘panic within the European Union over the lifting of labour market restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians,’ he admits that the Roma are ‘doing what they used to do, what they used to do in Romania, to beg or to be misused in the black market’ (Ford 2013: 4). Whilst his account suggests that their desire to access the welfare systems of wealthier Member States is not necessarily malicious, it is just what they do because surviving in the margins of society is all they know.

The portrayal of the Roma as the ultimate social raiders is further facilitated by the emphasis on diseases, put forward by some newspapers. A total of twelve articles discuss diseases – HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB), rubella and measles – as another reason to worry about the impact of mass Bulgarian and Romanian migration to the UK. The Daily Mail dedicated two articles to these issues in 2006 and four in 2013. The Sun published three articles in 2006 and two in 2013. The Times is the only broadsheet, which has an article on this topic.

The Times (05.04.2013) quotes a study conducted by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research which issued ‘warnings over potential pressure on primary school places, privately rented accommodation and social housing,’ as well as the ‘high levels of tuberculosis notifications among Romanians and Bulgarians and says that this has implications for the NHS planning’ (Ford and Savage 2013: 19). A news article from the Daily Mail (01.05.2013) argues that permanent residence and tax contributions in Britain are not a necessary requirement for all births. The tabloid asserts that parents could travel to the UK ‘to take advantage of its free NHS’ and quotes leading surgeon Professor Meirion ←39 | 40→Thomas saying that ‘the UK was becoming the world’s maternity wing’ (Martin 2013: no page).

In November 2006, the Sun’s leading article titled ‘killer plagues’ claims that ‘Britain once wiped out TB and was gaining ground against AIDS. Today we risk an explosion in both these killer diseases, thanks to infected immigrants’ (Leading Article, Sun 2006: no page). The tabloid continues by claiming that ‘startling new figures show a sharp rise in cases from new EU states Bulgaria and Romania which have the highest rates in Europe’ (Ibid).

It’s the EU’s Fault

Within broader discussions of Bulgarians and Romanians’ eligibility to access welfare and public services, the EU gains peculiar prominence. EU policies on integrating and coordinating national social systems are narrated as threatening to British sovereignty and ultimately damaging for the British welfare system. The EU is portrayed as an anachronistic project which is out of touch with the demonstrable needs of its citizens, therefore lacking democratic legitimacy. In fact, the domain of social security is where the British self and the European other are textually constructed in most antagonistic terms.

It is worth noting that fears over the actual and potential impact of intra-EU mobility on national welfare systems have preceded every EU enlargement round and have been exacerbated by other external factors, such as economic recession and rising unemployment (Carrera et al. in Arcarazo and Wiesbrock 2015). In this regard, research indicates that the anxieties surrounding the EU accession of Bulgaria and Romania are not an isolated phenomenon. Earlier entrants, such as Greece, Spain and Portugal, have also been subjected to 7 years of restrictions during a transitional period, and there have been fluctuations in levels of mobility throughout and after this period (Ibid).

However, Kvist (2004: 307) argues that not much can be learned from history. One of the main reasons is that the migratory surplus in Eastern Europe in general and Bulgaria and Romania specifically was more substantial in comparison with Greece, Spain and Portugal. The two rounds of Eastern Enlargement have resulted in a relative ‘population increase of about 27 per cent,’ compared to the combined Southern enlargements of 1981 (Greece) and 1986 (Spain and Portugal) (Kvist 2004: 305). However, the average GDP of the new Member States ‘is only a quarter of the EU 15 average,’ which distinguishes them from previous enlargement rounds, with the exception of the EU accession of Greece (Ibid: 305, 306).

←40 | 41→

A news article from the Daily Mail (31.12.2006) argues that ‘the two countries will be the EU’s poorest members, with wages averaging less than £200 a month’ (Nicol and Bottey 2006: 19), whilst the Guardian reports that ‘Europe is tired and confused’ as the EU accession of Bulgaria and Romania causes an ‘enlargement fatigue’ (Tisdall 2006: 25).

In the feature pages of the Daily Mirror (30.10.2006), columnist Tony Parsons suggests that, strictly speaking, Bulgaria and Romania ‘are not the problem,’ and ‘poor old John Reid is neither the problem, nor the solution.’ Instead, he argues the bedrock of the issue is ‘freedom of travel’ within the EU, which results in the ‘national insanity’ of uncontrollable immigration. The columnist says that most Eastern Europeans are ‘a decent bunch’ but ‘if recent history teaches us anything, it is that if a foreigner can get into Britain, then they can find a way to stay.’ The main anxiety of his narrative is thus focused on the unsustainable pressure that EU nationals will put on the welfare system, schools and hospitals. This is also evident from the language that the article employs: the text refers to ‘waves of mass immigration’ that the British self must ‘cope with’ against its will and under the ‘EU laws that are killing this nation.’ The text juxtaposes the scale and pace of social change with the notion of finite number of hospitals and schools and rhetorically asks ‘at what point do our services collapse? And do we really want to find out?’ (Parsons 2006: 19).

In 2013, the relative attractiveness of the British welfare system is narrated as the one thing that could alter migration flows, especially with labour restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals coming to an end. Political and media debates reached a breaking point in 2013 as political and media discourses were asserting that Britain is the logical first choice for economic migrants, given its strong economic performance and generous welfare system, but with restrictions gone, there will not be any barriers left to prevent Bulgarians and Romanians from abusing its welfare system. Although leaders of both the Labour and the Conservative parties have advanced a robust defense of national sovereignty over welfare provisions, the Conservative-led Coalition government officials were more assertive in their conviction that EU institutions were dysfunctional and lacking legitimacy, therefore posing an existential threat to British interests (Daddow 2012: 84). Key Conservative political figures, such as Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron, have consistently referred to the British welfare system as too generous and fragile. Then Prime Minister David Cameron proposed welfare policies changes which local authorities were to adopt in order to restrict the eligibility of EU nationals to claim benefits, and to be able to ‘deport those found homeless’ (Copsey and Haughton 2014: 79).

←41 | 42→

A news article from the Sun (26.03.2013) praises Cameron’s ‘bid to stop Britain being a soft touch for scrounging immigrants’ (Newton Dunn 2013: 2). David Cameron has insisted action is needed immediately to ‘prevent a fresh wave of new arrivals from Bulgaria and Romania at the start of 2014.’ However, the national tabloid expresses a concern that his ideas would not be approved by EU policymakers and human rights advocates who could ‘dismiss his get-tough approach as discriminatory’ (Ibid). The text points to the seen as out-of-touch European Union which fails to comprehend the tangible threat that Eastern Europeans are posing to the British welfare system. Anti-EU sentiments are also evident from a front-page news article in the Sunday Telegraph (29.09.2013) which argues that Britain is ‘powerless to stop the carousel of career beggars’ who can return to Britain to beg and commit benefits fraud ‘thanks to European laws’ (Duffin and Mendick 2013: 10, 11).

The EU is portrayed as overriding Member States’ national governments on matters related to welfare and public services. Not only tabloids, but also the broadsheets explicitly frame the EU as meddling, undermining and constraining Britain’s attempts to set its own set of fair rules with regards to the eligibility of EU nationals to access various benefits. A news article from the Times (06.03.2013) quotes Iain Duncan Smith who told MPs that it was currently ‘too easy for EU migrants to claim access to social housing, healthcare and tax credits.’ The then Work and Pensions Secretary expressed the grievance that the government is ‘facing stiff opposition from the European Commission’ in its attempt to ‘stop immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania coming to the UK solely to claim benefits’ (Kenber 2013: 6). The Daily Mail further accelerates the atmosphere of distrust and hostility towards the EU in a political commentary from 2 June 2013. The tabloid praises the Euroscepticism of Iain Duncan Smith and his political determination not to ‘buckle to diktats from the European Commission,’ which ‘in an explosive move, has decided to take Britain to the European Court of Justice’ over the proposed rights to reside test. The commentary goes on to suggest that Duncan Smith ‘fears that if he is forced to scrap the test, “benefit shoppers” from around Europe will come here to take advantage of British generosity.’ Unrightfully gained access to the benefits system is articulated as a fact, rather than a risk: ‘it is easy to imagine how a public fed up with abuses of the welfare state would react’ (Forsyth 2013: no page).

The right of EU nationals to claim social security payments in the UK is textually narrated as absolute and unfettered. Discussions were centred around the access of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals to so-called special non-contributory benefits, thus sustaining the perception that some people would be motivated to exercise their treaty rights solely in order to claim their entitlement to such ←42 | 43→‘minimum subsistence benefits accessible to the economically non-active’ (Carrera et al. in Arcarazo and Wiesbrock 2015: 259). In this regard it is noteworthy that newspaper editions from across the political spectrum opt to dismiss evidence that EU legislation contains safeguards to prevent abuse and misuse of the social rights provided, and that national governments retain considerable sovereignty within the domain of social policy.

Daily Mail’s political correspondent Jason Groves discusses David Cameron’s determination to announce plans to further restrict the eligibility of EU nationals to access the British welfare system. According to Groves, this decision has put the Prime Minister ‘on a collision course with Brussels’ (Groves 2013b: no page). The tabloid claims that whilst Mr Cameron’s feisty attitude is admirable, ‘critics dismissed the package as smoke and mirrors and warned that it would do little to curb an expected influx of migrants from Bulgaria and Romania next year.’ The Daily Mail quotes UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who claimed that ‘the only way to stop mass immigration from EU states and prevent abuse of the British welfare system is to leave the EU’ (Ibid).

The tabloid edition briefly references Department for Work and Pensions figures which point out that of the 2.2 million migrants from Eastern Europe fewer than 13,000 are on jobseeker’s allowance but dismisses it within the broader context of the presented narrative.

Further, in 2013 there is considerable frustration with the EU with regards to the comments of then EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Laszlo Andor, who referred to the UK as a ‘nasty country.’ This comment was made over Cameron’s government crackdown on EU migrants getting benefits. In November 2013, the Guardian reports that Mr Andor said that ‘the prime minister’s efforts to outlaw so-called benefit tourism were the product of hysteria’ and ‘an unfortunate overreaction’ (Mason et al 2013: no page). The EU Commissioner also said that ‘the unilateral rhetoric is not really helpful, because it risks presenting the UK as a nasty country in the European Union. We don’t want that’ (Ibid).

A lengthy opinion in the Daily Telegraph argues that ‘it isn’t nastiness that is the cause of Britain’s welfare problems, it is pathological niceness. This is our historical burden and we are having a hard-enough time dealing with its consequences without importing the victims of other countries’ mistakes into the mix’ (Daley 2013: 28). The lengthy piece claims that David Cameron was correct in trying ‘to restrict the right of new migrants to our benefits system. Because the peculiarly generous UK welfare state does not require claimants to have contributed to the system, we have an attraction that most other European states do not, thus making us the destination of choice’ (Ibid). The columnist singles out Eastern ←43 | 44→European accession states as ‘systemically, catastrophically poor’ and asserts that ‘the problem is not just free movement: it’s free money’ (Ibid).

There are noticeable frustrations within the data set that any official challenges on an EU level, as well as domestic welfare policy reforms, must be non-discriminatory under EU legal provisions. Simply put, the British government would not be allowed to target only Bulgarians and Romanians because any policy changes are bound to affect not only them, but all EU nationals, including British recipients. So, whilst newspapers make anti-EU arguments, they also often specify their extent. In 2013, the Coalition government stepped up its efforts to prevent Bulgarians and Romanians from gaining access to the British welfare system by co-signing an official letter alongside the interior ministers of Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. The letter demanded that the rules governing the principle of free movement are amended due to existing abuse of welfare systems ‘by certain immigrants’ (Carrera et al. in Arcarazo and Wiesbrock 2015: 260). The ministers also insisted on being granted more power to combat benefit fraud and to be able to deport as well as to deny re-entrance to suspect and convicted persons (Ibid: 260). Yet, the intensification of political and media debates should not be dismissed as mere politicking; by questioning the nature and legitimacy of the free movement principle, the United Kingdom along with a few other Member States made an unprecedented challenge to the fundamental freedoms of the EU.

A news article from the Daily Mail (24.04.2013) portrays a war-like atmosphere, where Britain, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands have formed a strategic alliance in order to protect themselves against ‘the burden of benefits tourists’ and to demand ‘an end to rampant abuse by benefit tourists of the EU’s free movement directive.’ EU nationals from Eastern European Member States are portrayed as putting ‘considerable strain on schools, healthcare and the welfare state’ and are therefore deemed undeserving of accessing the welfare systems of the wealthier core Member States (Slack 2013: 14). The Guardian also reports on the ‘growing coalition of support for Britain’s attempts to reform the principle of free movement’ after Prime Minister David Cameron publicly called for ‘an end to vast migrations of people from poor to rich countries within the EU’ (Mason 2013: no page). Even though the Guardian’s account is not as explicitly Eurosceptic as the above quoted from the Daily Mail, it does refer to the opposition of any restrictions based on nationality and income by the European commission as ‘fierce.’

A news article from the Times (27.12.2013) reports that ‘Mr Cameron is rushing through restrictions on European Union migrants claiming benefits that are designed to allay public fears about a possible influx of Romanians and ←44 | 45→Bulgarians’ (Pitel 2013: 2). In a similar vein, the Telegraph (01.12.2013) reports that the prospect of thousands of economically impoverished Bulgarians and Romanians ‘has raised fears about the pressure on jobs and services.’ The news articles go on to praise Cameron not only for recognising the validity of such public anxieties, but also for taking action in order to remedy an impending social injustice. The newspaper reports that ‘to try to allay those anxieties, David Cameron has proposed that arrivals from the EU should face tough curbs on their ability to claim benefits, as well as deportation if they sleep rough’ (Ross 2013: 8).


This chapter argued that Bulgarians and Romanians’ exercise of the principle of free movement of people has been discursively securitised within the domain of welfare and public provisions. Their actual and potential mobility and ability to access various benefits are narrated as an abuse of the free movement principle. By discursively positioning Bulgarians and Romanians in-between EU citizens and benefits tourists, the examined British print media sustains their status as second-class Europeans. The analysis points to the production of discourse which governs through fears and anxieties and which legitimises not only securitised rhetoric, but also the political praxis of exceptionalism, namely by explicitly advocating either for breaching EU regulations or leaving the EU altogether in order to ensure the survival of a specific referent object. Whilst in 2006, there was a welfare ban alongside labour market regulations, in 2013, the Coalition government launched a welfare reform, which aimed at further restricting the rights of EU nationals to claim social security or in-work tax support.

Secondly, based on empirical evidence, the chapter has demonstrated that Britain’s EU membership is textually constructed as part of the problem due to the widespread public perception that the UK is not in full control over its welfare policies. Hence, the anti-EU sentiments, which are prominent in the data, have gradually led to the promise made by David Cameron in 2013 to hold an in-out referendum with regards to Britain’s EU membership. The chapter has sought to shed light on various aspects of the traditional English Euroscepticism and their manifestation in news language, including the use of military metaphors and Cold War references. Whilst it is true that since 1973 virtually all British political leaders have emphasised the benefits of Britain’s EU membership, they have failed to substantially challenged the widespread anti-EU rhetoric coming from national news outlets from across the political spectrum, which have effectively exploited this void by emphasising the lack of purpose in the pro-European ←45 | 46→movement (Daddow 2015: 85). This is not to suggest a strong and categorical causality between British news media and the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum; rather, the chapter has sought to critically assess the multi-faceted impact of news language and its significance in merging the concept of Europe and the perceived threat of East-West intra-EU migrations.


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ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2020 (June)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 234 pp., 5 fig. col., 7 fig. b/w, 6 tables

Biographical notes

Trine Lund Thomsen (Volume editor)

Trine Lund Thomsen has been engaged in research within the area of migration and integration, under the heading of inclusion and exclusion, for a great many years. The main focus of her work lies on the causes and consequences of migra-tion and on integration processes and their impact on individuals and societies.


Title: Changes and Challenges of Cross-border Mobility within the European Union