domenica , 23 Giugno 2024

The government of mobility 1. Conditioned freedom and mobility «on probation»



British Prime Minister David Cameron has recently stated that «freedom of movement it is not an unqualified right». Otherwise stated, the freedom of movement can be limited. Hence, with these words Cameron clearly expresses the spirit of our times. Indeed, in several European countries it is taking place not only an erosion of social rights paralleling a generalized increase in job precarity, but also a growing tendency to limit the possibility for internal and external migrants to access welfare rights. The latter tendency is happening especially in such countries as England and Germany that have, since the beginning of the crisis, become destinations for an increasing number of migrants from neighbouring European countries. The national measures adopted to limit the freedom of movement do not contradict the declarations of the European Union that considers the internal mobility as a positive element able to homogenize its space by bridging the gap between job supply and demand and the differentials in «human capital» and of unemployment rates. We are, rather, dealing with two faces of a government of mobility that, while fostering movements that are favorable to profit and in line with the regional organization of production, opposes the desire that millions of internal and external migrants have not to be deemed just as disposable labour force and to be able to effectively choose where to go and where to live. After several years during which the extra-European migrants, alone and unheard, have claimed freedom of movement, now the problem begins to involve also the citizens of the European Union. Even those who have been claiming for years that the condition of migrants would anticipate that of the Europeans ultimately have few reasons to rejoice. The space of the free circulation of goods and people is now traversed by hierarchies and differences that affect millions of men and women every day. The specificity of the migrant condition is not consequently erased, but it is now shared by millions of other workers who are beginning to experience the partial and temporary inclusion to which the migrants are subjected on a daily basis.

During the crisis, the mobility internal to the EU has overall grown, but in a dishomogeneous manner, depending on wage imbalances and the relationship between job supply and demand.  Compared to the years before the crisis, from 2004 to 2008, the migratory flow to Europe from Southern countries has witnessed a 38% increase. The migrants from central and Eastern Europe still constitute the higher amount of internal migrants (58%) while those of Southern Europe are about 18% of the whole. Overall, internal migrants are about 13 millions. Paralleling the increase in internal mobility, the rhetoric of welfare tourism has become widespread, which sees the migration to Europe’s richest countries as motivated by the desire to exploit the latter’s welfare systems: after all we all know that in this crisis no one has time anymore to go on a decent vacation. Then why not go and get exploited, more or less regularly, in some London bar? They say that with the unemployment benefit one can live well. But who does ultimately receive holiday prize? The rhetoric of welfare tourism, as it is called, is contradicted by data showing that the migrants’ employment rate is higher than that of the host country’s residents. It is possible to understand this rhetoric only if we place it in the context of the radical severance of rights from labor that it is imposing itself in the European framework and that the crisis has rendered more dramatic. More than an erosion of work rights as a consequence of increased job precarity, we are dealing with an intermittence of rights, which the non-European migrants have been experiencing for decades knowing that the price of having rights is the coercion to work. Whether having to do with benefits relating to the payment of contributions or with social assistance benefits, the rights increasingly tend to be presented as privileges that need to be acquired each time employing portions of one’s own wage. For this reason, at a national and continental level the regulamentation of unemployment allowances is one of the crucial aspects of the government of mobility. In a situation in which unemployment is not an exceptional condition, but a structural one given the frequent change from one job to another, to deny unemployment allowances means to deny the material possibility to have the right to freedom of movement and to promote a liberty subjected to the needs of the transnational job market.

We must place in this context the attempts of Belgium, Germany, and England (but we should also remember the expulsion of gypsies from France in 2010) to deny welfare rights to internal migrants, attempts that opened the debate regarding their compatibility with the European regulations. Beyond the Schengen agreements, there are two main sources of right that regulate the EU’s internal system: the 2004/38 directive and the 883/2004 regulation. The directive states «the freedom to circulate and sojourn freely within the member States» and ties the enjoyment of welfare rights to the presence of a work relationship, that is to say to demonstrating either that one is looking for a job and that one is potentially employable or that one’s income is sufficient. Legal sojourn is unconditional for less than three months or over five years. In other words, this directive ties the EU citizens’ residency right to the availability of sufficient economic resources for internal migrants to not weigh down the host country’s social system. The regulation promulgated the same year aims, instead, to promote the «totalization» of the periods of contributions payment, that is to say that it aims to calculate the total amount of contributions paid, so as to take into account also those paid in the country of origin in order to determine whether one is or not entitled to certain welfare rights. Unemployment allowances, for instance, should be paid taking into account the work periods collected in two or more member States in which one has worked.

With respect to a case that took place in Germany, on November 11, 2014 the EU Justice Court confirmed that welfare benefits have to be denied to those who are not looking for work and don’t have enough money to live on their own. After all in September the Commission expressed itself favorably in a report concerning the introduction, in Germany, of measures to limit the «abuses» in the enjoyment of welfare rights in the «hosting country». The objective is «to limit the existing obstacles to the free circulation of workers, including the limited knowledge of the EU norms on the part of both public and private employers, and the difficulties of the mobile citizens to obtain information and assistance in the hosting member States». From this viewpoint, it is possible to deny the residence permit to European citizens who lied to obtain benefits and to deny welfare rights to the children of immigrants who don’t live in Germany. Yet, in the same report, there is no mention of the law, on which the German government is voting in these days, that states that after six months of unemployment, the migrant is framed as «job seeker» and must exhibit several proves in order to demonstrate that he or she is actually looking for a job. If he or she does not bring enough evidence, the insurance can be reduced or suspended. As this makes apparent, welfare becomes a tool to govern the free circulation in function of job demand. For this reason, the sentence of the Justice Court, even though it is not innovative and fits into the framework of existing norms, it has been hailed as an important victory in fighting welfare tourism. The restrictive interpretation of the norms regarding freedom of movement is considered a tool to tear down the national unemployment rate without fighting the enlargement the basin of precarious, part-time, and underpaid workers, and the necessity to accept any job at any condition. If, as we said, data disprove the social tourism rhetoric, it is instead apparent that the holiday prize in this phase is enjoyed by the States, which carry out a restless tourism on the work performances of both internal and external migrants, who pay contributions that they will never see, and of citizens. While the latter salaries’ are reduced to the minimum, they are also told the story, now akin to a bestseller, that the migrants steal their jobs.

In the German case, job centers monitor and verify the communitarian migrants’ actual job search. The Renzi government is particularly interested in these job centers as a model for the project of an «Agenzia Unica» contained in the Jobs Act. Thus another chapter opens in the politics of welfare tourism, one concerning the increased control over migrants to determine their degree of «employability» and their availability to accept any job offer. In line with a government of mobility oriented towards the current needs of the market, the control institutions have highly discretionary power when it comes to determine a condition of «inactivity» or «unemployability». The message ultimately is thus: it is not possible anymore to go to another country to start a life, or have a determinate experience, or to escape precariousness; even if you move, you won’t escape this trend as Europe promotes the freedom of exploitation. If you are not willing to be exploited, you can stay at home.

This is evident in the Belgian case. Belgium received a complaint from the European Commission in 2013 because of the expulsions of more than 7000 European citizens in the last few years. The expulsions are justified by the Belgian government by the fact that the migrants that have been unemployed for more than six months and have worked less than 12 months are an unbearable burden for the State budget. In order to detect those «burdens», Belgium introduced a set of systematic controls – which are expressively forbidden by the EU Commission – in order to check the current working condition of thousands of men and women, in a context where the parameters of the condition of «employability» are not clear and there is a high administrative discretion. Another telling example is the criterion introduced to obtain the «universal credit» that, in some parts of the United Kingdom, substituted the unemployment insurance. Both internal and external migrants can receive the universal credit only if they have «realistic possibilities» to find a job and if they meet some requirements, such as being fluent in English. Moreover, weekly controls are carried out in order to check that one is actually looking for a job and not refusing any job offer.

Going back to the Belgian case, the measures of the government that led to the expulsions clash also with the regulations concerning the totalization of the contributions in the different States were one has worked, because only the period of residence in Belgium is taken into account. The transformation of the rights in privileges does not concern only the social assistance welfare, but also the contribution-based one. It’s no surprise, then, that in the discourses about welfare tourism the contributions which migrants pay and from which they often get nothing back are rarely mentioned. The English government, which welcomed the sentence of the European Court of Justice, does not consider the fact that the 60% of the internal migrants arriving in the UK have a degree, and above all that they receive in benefits only the 64% of what they pay as contributions while they are much more a net source of income, than a sort of «parasite». In comparison to the previous decade, today both internal and external migrants are 43% less likely to receive welfare benefits. One of the reasons is also that they must prove with more and more documents their «regularity». Even though you pay the contributions, as soon as you lose your job − a condition more and more frequent in a context where precarity has become the norm − you simply have to leave. The life of the welfare tourist is quite tough: you should be always willing to be exploited and get any job for whatever wage while you donate your contributions to the State which in turn kindly exploits you and does not give anything back to you unless you do not prove to be there, enthusiastically, to sell your own skin. Under these conditions, the welfare rights seem to be, more than the holiday benefit that the migrants are looking for, only crumbs that the States sell at the price of gold.

Against the backdrop of a general reduction of the welfare benefits, we can recognize a tendency towards the regionalization of the European citizenship. This process does not signal the return of the national and social State, of its citizenship and its regime of inclusion and exclusion. The action of spatial borders − like the national ones − and of temporal borders − such as those defined by the coercion of the «employability» − onto the movements of the transnational labour force produces a redefinition of the spaces and times of the social citizenship in Europe that makes it intermittent. The daily negotiation of the welfare benefits is the most violent and widespread form of expropriation. As if the exploitation of the wage is not enough, every day millions of workers are expropriated by the administration of a part of their income, because they are denied what it is due to them and because that have to pay at a greater cost what it is necessary. These denied rights are the material expropriation of the possibility of the autonomous organization of one’s own life and one’s own mobility. The practice of the freedom of movement is the way in which thousands of men and women try individually to escape from the regime of wages, also by accepting to work in conditions of irregularity which are less subject to new controls and which could be more profitable because they do not imply the payment of contributions which migrant workers will never get back. Against these tendencies, the claims of a European welfare and European minimum wage mean the material conquest of the freedom of movement and the possibility of escaping from conditions and obstacles which every day the government of mobility tries to impose. A European welfare and minimum wage are necessary to escape from the freedom of exploitation and expropriation imposed by Europe. Welfare and minimum wage must therefore have a European scope in order to respond to an attack that, while articulated on different levels and scales of power, has a European extent, and above all because these claims, if imagined on a national scale, would become a new instrument for the production of old hierarchies and unbearable discriminations.

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