Dr Diego Acosta Arcarazo, Lecturer in European Law, Law School
Given that only 3.2% of the world’s population live outside their country of birth it is remarkable that migration has become such a topic of public debate. Even in those regions where groups of states have granted their citizens freedom to move, like in the EU, the number of people that actually do so remains at the same 3% of the total population. Contrary to popular belief, most people (around 97%) do not move: migration is an exception rather than the rule.
This issue of numbers is fertile ground for misconceptions. Usually, the general population vastly overestimates the figures. For example, in 2013, respondents to a survey in the UK guessed the percentage of migrants living in Britain to be 31% when it was in fact 13%. Despite the fact that moving between states is certainly easier in the modern era, the figures of global migration have remained roughly the same during the last 50 years when taken as a percentage of the world’s entire population. Most people still do not move.
Considering the tone of the political rhetoric in the last few months, the positions of the main parties on the topic of free movement of EU citizens seem less salient that one would have expected.
EU citizens or ‘EU migrants’?
It is worth stating from the outset that when we discuss free movement of people inside the European Union (EU) we are not referring to migration from a legal point in view. Indeed, the term ‘EU migrants’ often used by the media may define a sociological reality (an individual crossing a border between two countries with the intention to reside in the host -country) but it is legally incorrect. EU citizens (the nationals of any of the 28 Member States) have an individual and fundamental right to move and reside anywhere in the EU provided that they are working or self-employed or, if not performing an economic activity, that they have sufficient resources and medical insurance. This freedom is exercised by both the approximately 2.3 million EU nationals residing in the UK, as well as by the circa 2 million British nationals who reside in the other 27 Member States.
Free movement of people in the European Union (EU) is currently under attack by certain political and media sectors across Europe, with proposals arising on how to limit its scope. At the same time, other regions in the world are adopting free movement regimes. This is important to highlight as it allows us to demonstrate that the EU’s free movement regime is not an anomaly as its opponents often argue. It also enables us to compare how different regions function in this area which can lead to ideas and proposals for refining legislation and policies. As such, current debates on the construction of a South American citizenship as well as the MERCOSUR Residence Agreement, effectively establishing an open border area in the region, deserve our attention in Europe.