The European Commission may finally have hit on an issue that jerks Britain from its euro-torpor–an issue that simultaneously presses the buttons of border control, welfare abuse and Brussels intrusiveness. Whether from hubris, power-hunger or from sheer stupidity, Eurocrats are demanding that Britain stop asking immigrants to show that they won’t immediately start accesing the social security system.
As the law stands, people wishing to settle in Britain must demonstrate that they have the means to support themselves, either through work or through an alternative source of income such as a pension. The European Commission claims that this amounts to discrimination against EU citizens, who are supposed to enjoy the same rights as British nationals.
In fact, as so often happens, Eurocrats are disregarding the plain text of their own rules. Article 7(1) of the Free Movement Directive gives EU citizens the right to reside in another member state only if they have “sufficient resources for themselves and their family members not to become a burden on the social assistance system of the host Member State”.
In order to get around this clause, the European Commission is deploying a piece of sheer sophistry. It argues that, if immigrants were able to top up their income with British benefits, they would have “sufficient resources”.
In May, the Supreme Court ruled on the claim of a Latvian pensioner, who had just moved to Britain and had demanded Pension Credit on grounds that her Latvian pension was too small. Although our courts like to rule in favour of immigrants, the law here was so clear-cut that, by 4-1, judges turned her down. If the European Commission were to get its way, she would not only be able to claim Pension Credit, but also council tax and housing subsidies–despite not having paid a penny into the system.
This blog has droned on and on about the way in which the EU ispreventing the Coalition from fulfilling its manifesto promises. This ruling–if upheld by the European Court of Justice–would strike down Iain Duncan Smith’s pension reforms. His scheme, which has been warmly applauded across the political spectrum, aims to replace the current complicated system of state pensions with a flat entitlement, available to all pensioners regardless of assets, employment history or past contributions. Such a scheme, however, depends on a minimum residency requirement. (New Zealand, which operates a system very like the one IDS is proposing, makes payments only to those who have spent at least ten years in the country.) If every EU resident over the age of 66 whose income came to less than £140 a week were able to draw a British pension, the system would be bankrupted. Are we past caring?