University of London

The reality of free movement for young European citizens migrating in times of crisis

Dr Constantin Stefanou, director of the Sir William Dale Centre for Legislative Studies at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, provides an overview of ‘On the Move’. This ambitious collaborative project is designed to address a range of issues related to free moment throughout the European Union.

Can moving from one EU member state to another be so different?

Moving around and within the European Union (EU) in the 21st century sounds like an easy thing to do. We go on holiday abroad don’t we? We travel for business and for pleasure and it is never too difficult. Can moving from one EU member state to another be so different?

EU citizens consider freedom of mobility an important right, and although provisions to enable free movement have been in place for decades, the reality is more complicated. It happens all the time in the US with people travelling freely across its 50 states and no one blinks an eyelid. Unfortunately, in the EU, several barriers occur before, during or after moving, and problems in relation to legislation, administrative procedures and discriminatory practices are reported often.

To address these very issues Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS), part of the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, has joined forces with 15 prestigious research organisations on a two-year European Commission project. Called ‘On the Move’, it aims to identify real and perceived obstacles and barriers that young people face when exercising their right to free movement; identify practices that promote or hinder this right; raise awareness among young people on their rights and among national and EU bodies on identified barriers; and propose legislative and non-legislative solutions for making the right to free movement effective.

So what types of problems do young people encounter?

Because there are no large scale quantitative or qualitative data from fieldwork, the answer is we do not know. This means that policymakers have been proposing ‘relevant legislation’ without the benefit of a meaningful dialogue with the young citizens.

It is not just the new language, or food or the different local customs – although these too can be serious issues. If only it was so simple. The legal requirements, what we often refer to as ‘the paperwork’, involved in moving to another member state are cumbersome, off-putting and unintelligible to those who are not fluent in the local language, do not know the local customs and do not have enough money to finance the first months of their move. For young people with families it can turn a dream into a nightmare, hope to despair and completely ruin promising careers.

Is free movement of young Europeans an accessible reality?

Are the legal, administrative, social and cultural barriers they encounter ‘real’ or ‘perceived’ or does it not matter anyway? Are there EU-wide solutions to these problems, or are young people at the mercy of the nation state’s attempt to protect its space and its own citizens?

‘On the Move’, which is led by the Centre for European Constitutional Law, with Dr Constantin Stefanou and Dr Maria Mousmouti of the Sir William Dale Centre for Legislative Studies managing IALS’s involvement, uses an innovative mixed-method approach. It combines legal and empirical methods to help understand European legislation through the eyes of its subjects, and combines distinct levels of analysis: individual, national, cross-national and European.

The study targets those 25–35-year-olds who have either exercised their right to free movement or wish to do so, in order to identify the real or perceived barriers they experienced. Extensive legal and empirical research is being undertaken in 15 EU member states that have experienced increased migration in the last four years. Researchers have interviewed some 567 young people and 67 representatives from relevant.

A final report to EU officials will present a narrative from all sides involved, which includes specific and general problems and possible solutions, legislative and non-legislative, with a view to making free movement as painless and effective as possible.

Meanwhile, the lessons that have been learned are presented in the following reports: