EU equalisation will rescue freedom of movement

Economic migration is not an inevitable consequence of freedom of movement, and does not support the fundamental rationale of the EU.

Freedom of movement within the European Union was one of the basic rights enshrined in the original Treaty of Rome which came into effect in six countries in 1957. It is now controversial, and the UK Independence Party cites it as a principal justification for leaving the Union.

To encourage rational debate it is worth looking at what the founding states had in mind. In 1960 the poorest of them (Italy) had three-quarters of the GDP per capita of the richest (West Germany, if one excludes Luxembourg). It is unlikely that the founders intended to solve Europe’s economic problems by encouraging the population of the poorer states to move to the richest ones in large numbers. Neither did the differential provoke such large-scale economic migration.

Now, nearly ten per cent (40-odd million) of the EU population live in countries with about half the average GDP per capita or less of those founding states. Whether this differential is enough to provoke large-scale economic migration is uncertain, but it is apparently enough to provoke fear of it.

Why do Londoners not fear mass economic migration from Sunderland (always the butt of this kind of comparison)? Surely it’s because the basic entitlements (health, education, etc) there for the underemployed are similar to (or better than) in London, and breaking family and friendship ties in search of greater prosperity is not everyone’s choice

Equalisation of basic entitlements is a goal which the EU should adopt in the interests of social peace in our neighbourhood and to avoid counterproductive migration. Equalisation will require higher transfers of wealth, and this is what the debate should be about. Nationalist politicians resist this, particularly in the UK, because they argue that their nation’s relative prosperity is due to the superiority of their doctrine rather than to accidents of history and geography. But the gaps are not unbridgeable. The UK is just 7% ahead of the EU’s current average per capita GDP.

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