Free Movement of Workers and European Welfare States (freeEUmove)

The right to free movement of workers is one of the fundamental pillars of the European Union (EU), yet the conditions under which it occurs have been subject to considerable political debates between EU Member States in recent years. Under the current rules for free movement, EU citizens enjoy the unrestricted right to move and take up employment in any other EU country and – as long as they are ‘workers’ – have full and equal access to the host country’s national welfare system. While EU workers’ access to social protection in host countries has always been contentious, the rise in intra-EU labour mobility over the last 20 years has generated increasing tensions around the consequences and legitimacy of free movement of workers. A number of EU Member States have in recent years proposed restrictions on EU workers’ access to welfare benefits, based on the argument that specific aspects of their national welfare systems create certain costs and effects that do not arise in EU Member States with other types of welfare state regimes. In the United Kingdom, it is clear that these issues fed into the debates that ultimately resulted in the Brexit referendum and the UK’s decision to leave the EU. Given the continued debates in and between EU Member States, it is important to ask and analyse whether and why cross-country differences in national welfare institutions generate tensions with the free movement of workers, and – if there are genuine tensions – how they can be reduced to help ensure the political sustainability of unrestricted intra-EU labour mobility in the future.
freeEUmove builds on research conducted in Work Packages 4 and 7 of the H2020-funded REMINDER project (2017-2019).
MPC Researchers affiliated with this project:
Martin Ruhs.
External collaborators (all at Uppsala University): Joakim Palme, Moa Mårtensson, Marcus Österman, August Danielsson

  • In progress: Ruhs, M. Palme, J., Mårtensson, M., and A. Danielsson (2021) “National welfare institutions and the contentious politics of free movement of workers in the EU: How and why the positions of Member States differ”  (to be presented at CES and ECPR 2021)
  • Mårtensson, M., Österman, M., Palme, J. and M. Ruhs (2021) “Shielding Free Movement? Reciprocity in Welfare Institutions and Opposition to EU Labour Immigration“, Journal of European Public Policy
  • Martensson, M., Palme, J. and M. Ruhs (January 2019) “Reciprocity in welfare institutions and normative attitudes in the European Union”, REMINDER Working Paper
  • Osterman, M, Palme, J. and M. Ruhs (Sep 2018) “National Institutions and the Fiscal Effects of EU Migrants”, REMINDER Working Paper – blog post
  • Ruhs, M. and J. Palme (2018) “Institutional contexts of political conflicts around free movement in the European Union: A theoretical analysis”, Journal of European Public Policy25(10): 1481-1500
  • Ruhs, M. (2017) “Free movement in the European Union: National institutions vs common policies?”, International Migration55(S1): 22-38