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July 2014, Volume 21, Number 3

EU: Elections, Migrants

Elections. Anti-migrant and anti-EU parties did very well in EU Parliamentary elections in May 2014, electing representatives to fill 140 or 19 percent of the 751 seats. Euroskeptic parties did particularly well in Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands and the UK.

The National Front got about 25 percent of the vote in France, the UK Independence Party got 27 percent of the vote, and the Danish People's Party won 27 percent of the vote. The DPP urged an end to social welfare benefits for EU nationals who move to Denmark from other EU countries.

The National Front's leader, Marine Le Pen, said that her party wanted to restore the "grandeur of France" by, for instance, curbing immigration from about 200,000 a year to 10,000 a year. French president Francois Hollande said that the National Front's ability to win more votes than any of the established or mainstream parties was "a trauma for France, and for Europe."

UKIP's fortunes rose after Britain in 2004 allowed nationals of the eight Central European countries that joined the EU to move freely and seek jobs. Economists estimated that 5,000 to 13,000 so-called A8 nationals a year would arrive. Far more came, and 521,000 Polish-born residents were reported in the 2011 census. The Labor government argued that this A8 migration was economically beneficial, but popular feelings that migration was out of control contributed to the defeat of the Labor government in 2010.

Frontex in May 2014 reported rising numbers of asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean. Some 40,000 asylum seekers arrived from North Africa in 2013, and over 40,000 in the first five months of 2014. Most landed in southern Italy. Frontex said that 107,000 people were detected trying to enter the European Union illegally in 2013, up from 75,000 in 2012, led by Syrians, Afghans and Eritreans.

Intra-EU Migration. The EU is based on four freedoms: the freedom to move goods, capital, services and labor freely among member states. When countries join the EU, existing member states may restrict the free mobility of nationals of new member states, generally for up to seven years.

Freedom of movement for workers generally means the right to move to another EU member state and search for a job for three months. If an intra-EU migrant finds a job, the host government must issue any necessary work and residence permits. Most but not all member states link social welfare benefits to work in the country, prompting fears of "welfare migration" as workers move from poorer to richer EU member states and collect assistance.

In 2013, the EU reported that 3.3 percent of the EU's labor force, 8 million people, lived and worked in another EU member state. An additional 1.2 million EU citizens were border commuters who lived in one member state and worked in another. There were also non-EU citizens living in EU member states, such as Turks in Germany.

The EU Council of Ministers in April 2014 adopted a new directive clarifying the rights of intra-EU migrant workers, including requiring member state governments to provide information on jobs and job rights in at least one non-national EU language and creating support organizations for intra-EU migrants. The EU wants member states to simplify the process of recognizing the professional qualifications of intra-EU migrants, coordinate the payment of social security benefits earned in different member states, and offer more personalized career guidance to intra-EU migrants.

Erasmus, the EU-funded student exchange program, supported a record 270,000 students in 2012-13, and a total of over three million since being launched in 1987. Spain, France and Germany were the leading senders and receivers of intra-EU students. Erasmus provides an average E272 a month to help students study in other EU countries.

Economy. The unemployment rate in the 18 countries that use the euro was 11.6 percent in May 2014, reflecting continued slow recovery from the 2008-09 recession. The euro zone unemployment rate peaked at 12 percent in 2013, but remains higher than the eight percent of 2007. Rates varied from five percent or less in Germany and Austria to 25 percent or more in Spain and Greece.

The unemployment rate in the 28-member European Union was 10.3 percent, meaning that 25.2 million of the 245 million strong EU labor force was jobless.