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6.4.  Free movement of workers in the EU

  1. The labour market of the EU
  2. Social security and other measures for migrant workers in the EU

Adequate protection by European provisions in the field of social security is necessary for the effective use of the right of the citizens of one Member State to stay and work in another State of the Union. Without such protection, persons moving across borders to work or to look for a job, would risk losing all or part of their rights acquired or in the process of being acquired under national legislation (concerning, for example pensions, health insurance, unemployment benefits or family benefits). Article 48 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU (ex Article 42 TEC) provides for the adoption of the measures necessary for that purpose through arrangements to secure for migrant workers and their dependents: (a) aggregation, for the purpose of acquiring and retaining the right to benefit, of all periods taken into account under the laws of several countries, and (b) payment of benefits to persons resident in the territories of Member States. The system required by the Treaty was in fact adopted in 1958, but it has undergone many changes and improvements since then.

Thanks to the coordination of social security systems, social security rights acquired in the various Member States may be aggregated, but the person concerned may not obtain total benefits in excess of the highest pension he or she would have obtained if he or she had spent his or her whole insurance career under the legislation of any one of the States in which he or she had been employed [Regulation 883/2004 and Regulation 987/2009, last amended by Regulation 1372/2013 and Regulation 1368/2014]. This legislation applies to nationals of a Member State, stateless persons and refugees residing in a Member State who are or have been subject to the legislation of one or more Member States, as well as to the members of their families and to their survivors. It concerns the following branches of social security: (a) sickness benefits; (b) maternity and equivalent paternity benefits; (c) invalidity benefits; (d) old-age benefits; (e) survivors' benefits; (f) benefits in respect of accidents at work and occupational diseases; (g) death grants; (h) unemployment benefits; (i) pre-retirement benefits; and (j) family benefits. This legislation covers also students moving within the European Union, taking account of their specific situation and of the special features of the schemes under which they are insured. Civil servants and persons treated as such have equal treatment as regards general statutory pension rights and special schemes for civil servants prevailing in the Member States [Regulation 1606/98]. The supplementary pension rights of employed and self-employed persons moving within the European Union are equally guaranteed [Regulation 1223/98]. The acquisition and preservation of supplementary pension rights have been improved, in order to enhance worker mobility between Member States [Directive 2014/50]. Rights and obligations comparable to those applying to EU citizens are granted to nationals of third countries who are legally resident in the European Union and who satisfy the other conditions laid down in Regulations 883/2004 and 987/2009 [Regulation 859/2003].

The unemployed person who leaves for another Member State to seek employment receives, for a maximum period of three months from the date of departure, the benefits of the country in which he or she was last employed, to be paid for by that country. Repayments in respect of health care provided for members of the family resident in a Member State other than that in which the worker is employed and insured are made entirely to the institutions of the country of residence. Family allowances are granted under the legislation of, and at the rate laid down in, the country of employment. According to the Court of Justice, such allowances are not subject to requirements as to minimum period of residence [Case C-111/91].

Similar arrangements cover self-employed persons and their families [Regulation 1390/81 as well as employed persons or self-employed persons pursuing activities in the territories of two or more Member States [Regulation 883/2004, last amended by Regulation 1372/2013 and Regulation 1368/2014]. Concerning health insurance, any insured person staying temporarily in a Member State other than the one in which he or she is insured, for tourist or employment purposes, may be admitted to hospital or receive refunds in respect of urgent medical care in the host State on presentation of the European health insurance card ("European card") [Decisions 2003/751, 2003/752 and 2003/753 and Decisions S1, S2 and S3]. This card replaced all paper forms needed for health treatment giving entitlement to reimbursement of health care costs during a temporary stay in a Member State other than the competent State or the State of residence. The European card simplified access to care in the country visited, while providing a guarantee for the bodies financing the health system in that country that the patient is fully insured in his or her country of origin and that they can therefore rely on reimbursement by their counterparts.

For the effective functioning of a common labour market, it is also necessary that potential migrant workers have at their disposal adequate information regarding the number and nature of jobs available in the European Union and the qualifications required. This is the task of the European Employment Service (EURES), a network of some 400 "Euroadvisers" from the national employment services, employer organisations, trade unions, regional administrations and universities, specially trained to deal with the needs of transnational job-seekers and job-providers [Decision 2003/8 and Regulation 2016/589]. The actions of EURES are supported by the Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (2014-2020) [Regulation 1296/2013, see section 13.3.2].

The core of the EURES network is a computerised databank providing information on transnational job and recruitment opportunities, as well as information on living and working conditions in the countries of the Union, from accommodation to contract law and taxation. The European Commission ensures the coordination of the network. EURES serves both as an employment service at the scale of Europe, having as task to inform, counsel and place job seekers on the territory of the European Economic Area, and as a forum for the examination, at operational level, of all questions relating to employment in Europe. By encouraging trans-border recruitment and acquisition of qualifications, this network makes a real contribution to the creation of a European labour market. More than half a million people seek the EURES services every year. The EURES internet site on the Europa server is a key source of information for job-seekers and employers as regards living and working conditions in the different Member States, providing access to the EURES database of job vacancies (around 10 000) and links to all the Internet sites of the participating public employment services.

To facilitate the mobility of workers within the EC/EU it was also necessary to ensure and encourage the education of the children of migrant workers. That was achieved in a Council Directive, which obliges the Member States to treat the children of migrant workers in the same way as the children of national workers, including as regards the aid granted by the public authorities to school pupils and to students [Directive 77/486]. Two Council Resolutions on school provision for gypsy and traveller children and on school provision for children of occupational travellers respectively, provide for measures to be taken by the EU and the Member States to resolve the specific problems of those poorly educated people.

Concerning sickness insurance, the Court of Justice has established that, when an insured person has been authorised by the competent institution to go to another Member State for treatment, the institution of the place where the treatment is provided is required to provide him with benefits in kind in accordance with the rules on assumption of the costs of health care which the latter administers, as if the person concerned were registered with it [Case C-368/98]. An authorisation can be refused on the ground of lack of medical necessity, only if the same or equally effective treatment can be obtained without undue delay at an establishment having a contractual arrangement with the insured person's sickness insurance fund [Case C-157/99].

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Your roadmap in the maze of the European Union.

Based on the book of Nicholas Moussis:
Access to European Union law, economics, policies

Translated into 14 languages

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