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ECPR Virtual General Conference 2020

EU Migration, Welfare Rights and Non-Domination

European Union
Political Theory
Social Justice
Welfare State
Normative Theory
Dimitrios Efthymiou
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Dimitrios Efthymiou
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt

Debates on the EU are increasingly characterised by references to immigration. The response on the part of a number of member-states’ governments has been the introduction of selective-migration policies that target low-skilled, low-paid as well as unemployed migrants. More precisely, more recently, the UK and Germany have passed legislation that bans EU immigrants from gaining access to so-called social assistance benefits for a period of 5 years after their arrival. Are these, or similar, restrictions on EU immigrants’ access to welfare rights justified? The paper attempts to give an answer to this question by examining how three different normative approaches fair with respect to how they theorise these restrictions with reference to EU member-states’ interests in sustaining their welfare systems on the one hand and EU policy desiderata such as freedom of movement, non-discrimination and ‘reasonable financial burdens’ on the other. More specifically, the paper defends two claims. First, a negative one: it is shown that a contribution and a reciprocity-based approach fail to protect least advantaged nationals from analogous restrictions to those they advocate for EU immigrants. The second claim of the paper is a positive one. It is argued that a non-domination approach does a better job in capturing more of our stronger intuitions regarding the purpose of granting EU immigrants access to welfare rights in the context of the EU as well as that it does so while meeting all relevant desiderata of EU law and policy. Hence, the non-domination approach, I conclude, enjoys an interpretative advantage over the two rival norms examined in the paper by correctly identifying the fundamental normative principle that ultimately must guide our considered judgements on whether EU immigrants must be given access to welfare rights.
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