Barriers to EU citizenship: Insiders and outsiders in the context of the UK

Published 2 September 2014 / By COMPAS Communications

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paper peopleCentral to the emergence of European citizenship has been the reconstruction of the boundaries of citizenship and its relationship to nation states, welfare states and labour markets. This has involved changing relations at the interstate level with regard to the legal construction of EU citizens and non-EU citizens, and the associated rights of citizenship. Indeed, the establishment of EU citizenship in 1992 entailed the establishment of the ‘Third Country National’ (TCN). As citizens of EU member states became EU insiders so citizens of non-EU states were turned into EU outsiders. The EU Commission set out a call for an exploration of barriers to EU citizenship to seek to further understand notions of citizenship within the ever-widening Eurozone. This research project forms Work Package 10 of the FP7 programme bEUcitizen which seeks to answer that call. By exploring the notions of insiders and outsiders in the context of barriers to EU citizenship and the limitations of citizenship in according social rights, we aim to highlight how ‘citizenship’ is both a legal and a normative status, that is, how formal in/exclusion is related to ideas of deservingness and ‘Good Citizenship’.

In the case of EU citizenship, citizenship is related to mobility and movement (essentially for the purposes of work) rather than stasis and belonging. Increasingly, national and European policies are converging around the marketisation of citizenship. How the dynamics of the market and the nation intersect to construct hierarchies of in/exclusion, deserving and underserving, belonging and non-belonging requires attention to the connections as much as divisions between groups of citizens and non-citizens. In the EU free movement rights are accorded only to those who are productive: the ‘citizen-worker’.

welfare-workIn the context of the UK, national immigration policies serve to intersect with welfare regimes to restrict access of EU nationals to welfare, on the premise of preventing so-called ‘benefit tourism’; this despite recent research revealing this to be a virtually non-existent problem. EU citizens who are not engaged in the labour market and who are a ‘burden’ on the host state, lose their right of residence and may be subject to removal orders. Thus restricting access to welfare functions also as a form of mobility control. As such, clear parallels can be seen from historical perspective if one looks at the case of the beggar. Beggars who moved to another city were often seen as a ‘burden’, workshy and idle and could be removed to their parish of birth. Indeed, the same laws and principles adopted nearly 200 years ago are still enforced today. Under the Vagrancy Act 1824 (sections 3 and 4), begging is illegal in England and is an arrestable – although not imprisonable - offence: the maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine. Begging has been a ‘recordable’ offence since 2003 in England.

On the road to nowhereThe Vagrancy Acts were concerned with getting the idle to work and with preserving the social order of the time and controlling the mobility of the poor. Divisions emerged between true and false beggars and the ‘genuine’ poor (Geremek, 1997). Discourses around mobility, labour market status and deservingness of migrants, particularly EU migrants, today parallel those used in the past in relation to beggars. Indeed, we can consider the vagrant to be one of the ancestors of both contemporary ‘Failed Citizens’ and ‘Migrants’ (Anderson, 2013). Controlling the mobility of the poor, encouraging or enforcing work is still embodied in many of today’s welfare policies. Increasing sanctions, difficulties in accessing welfare, particularly following the introduction in the UK of the habitual residence test, mean that many migrants who may be eligible for benefits are faced with such barriers that they fail to access their entitlements. In what has been described as a shift from a welfare to a ‘workfare’ state (Peck 2001), access to social security has become increasingly conditional on undertaking employment-related activities. Increasingly, punitive measures are implemented towards citizens who do not comply with work-related conditions while claiming benefits. There is some emerging evidence (e.g. Trussell Trust Foodbank data) that in the UK, poverty is increasing as a result of such sanctions. Conversely, there is some evidence that residence requirements have led to the dis-entitlement of national citizens to welfare benefits in some cases. Although changes to the HRT were initiated to prevent so-called EU ‘benefit tourism’, advice agencies have so far reported these restrictions have been affecting more British than EU citizens.

What is work?

Additionally, in spite of, or perhaps because of the interactions of national and EU legislation and case law reinforcing the model of the worker citizen, what counts as work is somewhat vague. There is no autonomous definition of worker in EU law, rather its interpretation rests on EU case law and the definition has developed in a somewhat ad hoc and ill-defined manner. To attain worker status, work has to be deemed to be 'genuine and effective' and not on such a small scale as to be 'marginal and ancillary'.

Given the importance of worker status for exercising treaty rights, some member states - most notably the UK - have tightened up considerably on the definition of ‘worker’ in an effort limit EU nationals’ access to welfare benefits. In the UK, EU nationals have been found not eligible for social assistance on the basis that they do not have a ‘right to reside’ but also because they were not previously ‘workers’. Among other grounds, a new Minimum Earnings Threshold of £150 a week (equivalent to working 24 hours a week at National Minimum Wage) has been introduced, as a measure of whether work is 'genuine and effective'. Whilst it is too early to say what impact this will have, it could reasonably be anticipated that EU nationals in particularly precarious, low waged work are likely to find that, for the purposes of claiming welfare benefits, this does not count as ‘work’ at all.

As such, efficiency, individual self-reliance and market rationality have become the new touchstones of national identity and purpose and thus more individualistic and less republican or communitarian notions of citizenship are now evident throughout Europe, and particularly in the UK. Constructions of insiders and outsiders are constantly shifting, and the boundaries overlapping, but hierarchies of in/exclusion reveal the linkages between citizenship and the labour market that have been present across time and place. COMPAS is currently developing a comparative project on begging in the EU, so watch this space!