How will the EU change? Let me count the ways…
It will change steadily, sometimes after a huge public political bust up at a summit in Brussels, sometimes stealthily, under the radar, but change it will via a hundred rule changes. Most of those will not be in the direction of travel of ‘Ever Closer Union’ – in fact quite the opposite.
One potential change came this week. The German Cabinet has approved a bill which, if passed by Parliament, will deny welfare benefits to unemployed citizens of other EU nations resident in Germany for five years.
That is hardly in the spirit of the free movement of peoples as envisaged in the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht. The treaty introduced the concept of EU citizenship after which citizens could move anywhere in the Union and enjoy the welfare benefits of the state in which they settled. In fact, it is more of an echo of what preceded the EU – the European Economic Union. It is a move towards the return to the idea of the free movement of EU workers but not necessarily of all citizens.
Under the new German proposal EU citizens can come and live in Germany – but they won’t get benefits for five years. This would strike Germany from the list of countries where people go ‘welfare shopping’.
Already the EU rules have been tightened – people from a member state country resident in another member state must wait three months, and then prove they are genuinely seeking work, before being eligible for benefits.
Germany’s national employment agency estimates that about 12% of non-German EU citizens residing in Germany are on some sort of state benefits– that is more than 400,000 people.
These are new times in Germany with the mainstream political class under immense pressure from growing nationalism manifested in parties such as the ADF. To draw the nationalist sting, Mrs. Merkel looks minded to tack to the right in 2017 in what will be an election year.
In the event of the bill being passed, it will impact on how Germany views the conditions under which the UK exits the Union.
Other nations may be tempted to follow the German example. If so it will become harder for them to argue for completely freezing the UK out of the Single Market if the UK stands firm on the idea that it will not allow the free movement of labour to the UK from EU countries.
The British debate about hard or soft Brexit concentrates on domestic UK politics and the rhetoric of the EU’s main players. The debate should also be including the domestic polices of each EU country.
For the times they are a changin…