Immobility

Father and son in front of the French flag during the French national celebration of 2009 (picture Dimitri Torterat)

The dispute about Italian and Portuguese workers having jobs at a power station in Lincolnshire highlights the issue of labour mobility within the EU. One of the fundamental principles of the EU is that of the free movement of workers. The single market is founded on four freedoms – of goods, services, capital and labour – and they all need to go together. Restrictions on the movement of people alone would provoke criticisms from the political left: workers should have the same rights as bosses.

(Lionel Robbins identified the free flow of commerce across borders as a fundamental part of federalism in “Economic planning and international order” published in 1937. This is not a new idea.)

While the free movement of workers is fundamental to the nature of the EU, it is and always will be the exception to economic life and not the rule. At present, no more than a small percentage of the people of the European Union live in a member state other than their own, and it is a percentage that will not grow very much.

This fact is sometimes used by anti-Europeans to criticise the EU (for example, Daniel Hannan in the First Post today), but in fact it proves the opposite.

For the principal fear of Eurosceptics is of the loss of national identity amid a Europeanisation of life. But how can this happen when most people will remain happily resident in the place where they grew up?

Europe’s communities and identities are more resilient than the Eurosceptics give them credit for. National pride accompanies support for the idea of Europe and is not an obstacle to it.

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