London challenges Brussels on the matter of free movement of people

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Depuis la prise de parole de David Cameron à la chambre des communes en octobre, le Royaume-Uni passe pour le « méchant » de l’Union Européenne : ayant relancé le débat sur l’immigration en Grande-Bretagne, le Premier Ministre a lancé un appel à limiter la libre circulation au sein de l’Union Européenne.  Dans une Europe qui a fait ses preuves depuis maintenant plus de 50 ans, peut-on légitimer ses propos ?

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The position of Prime Minister Cameron on the subject is quite embarrassing: several of his arguments question the place of the United Kingdom in Europe.  First of all, he claims that the situation is already an issue in Britain since the number of Romanian and Bulgarian (the two newest EU members) workers rose by 19% this past year and as the controls on Romania and Bulgaria will be lifted in January, it raises concerns in the government. They fear the situation may worsen. Besides, the European financial crisis triggered higher unemployment, and logically, Cameron is against immigration if it steals Britons’ opportunities to find a job: some could have said that Cameron also wanted to reassure the population on the eve of the next election. Cameron indeed accused the Labour Party of having promoted immigration in Great Britain when it was in power, which, according to him, explains the figures.

The problem that Cameron highlights is that there are already lots of tensions about low wages in Great Britain, he rejects the idea of an increasing number of foreign workers because it would, according to him, trigger a pauperization of the English society. Indeed, a lot of these Eastern European workers don’t have a real legal job but continue to get benefits from the British Welfare State: this situation won’t be sustainable. As a consequence, Cameron decided that the migrants wouldn’t receive anything for the first three months, after which, they will have the right to receive these benefits for a maximum of six months, unless they prove they have genuine prospects of employment.

However, Cameron’s arguments are really controversial and contradictory. Indeed, when France wanted to strengthen controls on the legislation about workers in Europe, he disapproved of it. Moreover, when he went to India, he promoted the idea that Britain would be happy to welcome Indian workers: something that is not really surprising since the Indian community is the richest minority in the country and its diaspora is well integrated in the British society thanks to their common past. Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind that Britain belongs to the European Union and, although it has a contemptuous and traditional tendency to stand out, it cannot ignore the commitments it made, that is to say to accept the principle of free movement of EU citizens within the EU territory. Cameron’s words actually didn’t sound good: « It’s quite drastic and surprising to ignore so much European values. In Europe I see a rising populism and an isolationist trend. Does Prime Minister Cameron know that Eastern Europe doesn’t only share cheap labor force but also high-skilled doctors that Bucharest would like to keep?”  said a Romanian diplomat.

 

Axel BARICHE & Olivia LI

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