Justice Everywhere

a blog about justice in public affairs

Ought non-mobile citizens of the EU be compensated for the costs of mobility?

In his kick-off contribution to the latest EUDO-Forum debate, Maurizio Ferrera engages with a challenging question raised by Rainer Bauböck in his State of the Union Address (5 May 2017, Florence): can the integrative functions of EU citizenship be enhanced and how? Ferrera identifies flaws of the EU citizenship construct, focusing on its social dimension, and concludes with “some modest proposals for ‘adding stuff’ to the EU citizenship container”. His proposals include a compensation of non-mobile EU citizens for the negative economic and social externalities of intra-EU mobility, i.e., of the mobility of workers in the EU. While I agree with much of what Ferrera says, I am unconvinced of this particular proposal. The argument presented here is a short version of the one published on the EUDO website.

In his response to Ferrera’s contribution, Christian Joppke points out that Ferrera is making a problematic presumption: the presumption that “moving” causes harm that “stayers” should be indemnified for. Joppke argues that by proposing to compensate non-mobile citizens for the burdens of freedom of movement, Ferrera confirms the populist portray of migrants as perpetrators and natives as victims and “buys into the populists’ hideous re-labelling of mobile EU citizens as ‘immigrants’”. My argument can be seen as an expansion of this criticism. Ferrera’s proposal is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it gains support from the view that the negative economic and social externalities are “produced by the mobiles”, which is not correct. His examples of such externalities are a decrease in available jobs, hospital beds, emergency care, social housing, school places etc. To this we should add “social dumping” and “brain drain”. These adverse effects of the right to free movement are not produced by the movers, but by the system, i.e., they are the consequences of giving people the right to free movement without providing mechanisms that prevent a race to the bottom of welfare services, wage dumping, and so forth. Once we abandon the picture of movers producing negative externalities, Ferrera’s proposal becomes much less plausible. Second, every EU citizen is a potential mover. Someone who is a stayer today might be a mover tomorrow. Every EU citizen has the formal freedom of movement. At any point in time, this is not a substantial freedom for many people, but this situation is not static. Not only is it possible that stayers want to and are able to exercise their right to free movement in the future, it is also possible that they get into a situation where they find themselves compelled to do so. Third, the demand for compensation doesn’t fit well with Ferrera’s claim that one of the corresponding duties of the right to free-movement is “to bear the burdens of ‘hospitality’”. Fourth, the demand makes negative externalities seem unavoidable, which is not the case. Fifth, although the burdens are not shared equally, mobility ultimately affects society as a whole when it leads to a decline of domestic cohesion. In the long run, the burdens are not felt merely locally, but globally. Finally, compensatory measures don’t go far enough. We have to address the systemic flaws, the origins of the European malaise.

How could this be done? Given the present form of the EU, some of the negative effects might indeed be unavoidable. Due to big differences between member states concerning minimum wage regulations, access to social protection, flexibility of the labour market, taxes, etc., mobility of workers leads to a race to the bottom. As Vandenbroucke writes, “if we don’t want immigration to boost a precarious, hyper-flexible segment of labour markets, there should be limits to precariousness and flexibility across the board”. Vandenbroucke claims that the only way to tackle the distributive risks associated with mobility is to be more demanding with regard to the quality of welfare states. He asks for common principles, e.g. “All workers are covered by minimum wage regulation”. There are doubts as to whether the EU as we know it is capable of achieving the political union necessary for broadening the social union. Because the EU is, in the first instance, an economic union, and because of its well-known democratic deficit, a broader social union might only be reachable via fundamental reforms. Perhaps we even need to start all over again. One rather radical proposal that I have addressed in a previous post is to create a European Republic, in which there are no nation-states anymore, but only regions, cities, and – most importantly – citizens. If we follow Ulrike Guérot, citizenship that fosters integration and solidarity has to imply equality in front of the law, equal general voting rights and equal social participatory rights. In today’s EU, citizens do not have any of this. Unfortunately, this is not stuff that could simply be added to the “EU-citizenship container”.



I am a postdoc in philosophy at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. My current research project is on the ethical and meta-ethical implications of evolutionary theory. Before coming to Utrecht I worked as lecturer in social philosophy at Maastricht University and as teaching fellow at the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation in Venice. I hold a PhD from the European University Institute in Florence. My husband and I live in Baarn, a village in the province of Utrecht, together with our two daughters Philine and Romy.


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  1. Lisa

    Hi Julia, thanks for this post! I’ve been wondering about the rhetoric that is often used to describe those that move and those that stay. It seems that they are often described as antagonistic to each other, which may sometimes be the case. But it seems worth emphasizing that very often, you have complementarities – and it’s because of the potential for complementarities that everyone could benefit if the framework was corrected, as you suggest. It seems to me (purely anecdotally) that part of what angers „stayers“ is that their way of life is not appreciated and respected, and the official EU rhetoric one-sidedly celebrates the „movers“. So in addition to the actual material distributive questions, there also seems to be a dimension of cultural recognition that should be corrected for its previous one-sidedness. Do you think this could help to improve the situation?

  2. Julia Hermann

    Hi Lisa, thank you very much for adding this important point to the discussion. I think that you are right. Many “stayers” probably feel as second class EU citizens, because the pre-dominant rhetoric makes it seem as if their way of life was somehow inferior because they do not seize the chances provided by the EU. I agree that the rhetoric should change in order to correct for the one-sidedness you point out.

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