The Future of Free Movement of Workers in the EU


Why we should reduce political tension by reforming the coordination of access to welfare benefits

On 2 December, the Department of Government hosted a roundtable conference where policy makers and researchers met to discuss the future of free movement of workers within the EU. During the conference, policy recommendations based on new research results were presented.

A key issue discussed was whether the political sustainability of the current rules for free movement of EU workers is threatened by tensions created by cross-country differences in national welfare institutions, and if so, what can be done to reduce the risk of such tensions.

Invited guests were policy makers and key stakeholders who met with researchers from the large-scale Horizon 2020 research project Reminder which involved 13 partner institutions across Europe during 2017-2019.The final session of the roundtable discussed policy recommendations, based on the project’s final results.

The roundtable took place at the City Conference Center in Stockholm on 2 December. It was co-hosted by Joakim Palme (Uppsala University) and Martin Ruhs (European University Institute) in collaboration with The Delegation for Migration Studies (Delmi) and Mistra-Geopolitics. 

Find out more about the Reminder Project


Lunch and welcome

Setting the Scene: Why do EU Member States disagree about whether and how to reform the free movement of workers?  

Questions: Which EU Member States want to reform the current EU rules for the free movement of EU workers and their access to welfare benefits? Which specific restrictions do Member States prefer, and why? What is the potential role of cross-country differences in welfare institutions in generating divergent national policy positions on these issues? 

The fiscal impacts of EU free movement across the EU28 

Questions: What do we know about the fiscal costs and benefits of mobile EU workers for host countries? How do these effects vary across host countries with different welfare institutions? To what extent are public perceptions of the welfare effects of free movement linked to realities? 

Coffee break

Questions of fairness? Welfare state institutions, norms and public attitudes to EU free movement

Questions: Are different national welfare institutions linked to different public perceptions of ‘fairness’? How are public attitudes to free movement influenced by the characteristics of national welfare institutions? What is the role played by different perceptions of fairness among European populations and policymakers? 

The future of free movement: a reform proposal and its alternatives  

Questions: Based on the latest research, do cross-country differences in national welfare institutions threaten the political sustainability of the current rules for the free movement of workers in the EU? Can we reduce the risk of such tensions by reforming the coordination of mobile EU workers’ access to welfare benefits? What are the alternatives?