"unreasonable burdens" in the european building
Even Barroso could soon be expelled from Brussels?
Eliana Capretti, Gemma Rosey, Ana Maria Sarmento
Brussels (IHECS alumni) 07/03/2014

Belgian authorities sent notification letters to over 2,700 EU citizens last year for being an "unreasonable burden" on the national welfare system. The majority of those who were technically “asked to leave” come from Romania and Bulgaria, followed by Spain and Italy. Students and people who have lost their jobs are among those who can be targets of this tightening of migration law.

Official figures from the Belgian Foreign Office show how the deportation notice of European citizens have dramatically increased in the last three years. In 2010, 343 citizens of European Union (EU) Member States were expelled from Belgium, in 2011 their number grew to 989, and in 2012 it doubled, reaching to 1,918. In the first nine months of 2013, another 1,130 EU citizens were expelled. By cross-checking the data from the Social Affairs and the Immigration Office, it’s clear that the Belgian Authorities have been notifying an increased number of EU citizens with expulsion cases in the past years. In total, there were 2,712 EU citizens that have been asked to leave Belgium in 2013.

Even having a job is not enough to be allowed to stay, as proved by the case of the Italian accordion player Silvia Guerra, who has lived in Brussels for three years. Actually, Silvia Guerra has an integration work contract and 30 percent of her salary is funded by the Belgian state.

*EU citizenship=Social Exclusion?

But what does this exactly mean? When you receive an eviction notice, in practice, it means that you cannot work, you don’t have an identity in your host country because they take away your Belgian identity card, thus, you don’t qualify for, and can’t access, a range of administrative benefits. Belgium does not physically deport - no force is taken – for those who receive such notices but, by cutting all access to basic services (especially the possibility to sign a lease on an apartment, which is necessary to access healthcare, education and all other social benefits), it gives little or no option than to leave the country. Yet, the EU citizen still can move to another European country and eventually even return to Belgium.

The right of EU citizens to work in all member states is among the basic pillars of the European Union. Every EU citizen can stay in another member states for three months to look for work. Those who find jobs, receive the legal right to remain in the country indefinitely. Those who don't, are threatened with possible expulsion, at least according to the Directive (2004/38/EC) on the right to move and reside freely, dating back to 2004.

*"Contrary to the spirit of Europe"

Professor Jean-Michel Lafleur, Associate Director of the Center of Ethnic and Migration Studies (CEDEM) at the University of Liege explains more about the said directive,“What this directive is doing is clarifying what is acceptable and not acceptable in terms of the settlement or long-term settlement of the EU citizens. So in this case, Belgium is making some sort of a strict interpretation of the directive, which allows it to expel citizens who are using social benefits. I believe that this is a very strict interpretation that seems to be contrary to the spirit of the European Union which is about moving and circulating. I also believe that it’s particularly regrettable that such decisions are taken in time of crisis when mechanism of solidarity is more necessary than ever before".

Clearly requesting an EU citizen to leave the country is not the same as expelling a citizen from a non-EU country. It would be illegal to expel an EU citizen without a proof of serious threat. Nevertheless, authorities have been sending out, more and more, notices of deportation based on representing an “excessive burden” on the social security system of the country.

*Find a job or vanish

The concept of “burden” is debatable and it whittles down the arguments of the European Commission on mobility which has created more benefits than losses to the community project of European Integration, as Belgium continues its path in notifying unwanted citizens. After producing a mandate signed by an officer of the ministry and after an analysis of each individual case as defended by the Belgian Foreign Office, the member state can expel a European citizen from their country.

Professor Lafleur also elaborates some details regarding unemployment benefits, “When you come to Belgium or whenever a European citizen moves to another EU country, if you are unemployed, you have the right to export your unemployment benefits for at least three months. This means that an Italian unemployed person can come to Belgium and look for a job for three months and this is going to be paid by the Italian unemployment office. So obviously, in those circumstances, Belgium is not to worry because they’re not the ones paying for these benefits. Belgium will only start worrying about these citizens when they are over a longer period of time in Belgium and start claiming for benefits. And if there’s no reasonable prospect that they will find a job then there again, a variable that’s very hard to measure, then they could start making trouble and they start notifying you that you might have to leave the country.”

We need to remember that the initial freedom of circulation as envisaged by the fathers of the European Union was limited to workers. And the idea that workers should be able to circulate in the European Union and find work cannot be victims of discrimination. It’s only with the Maastricht treaty that the freedom of circulation for everyone has been installed, but it’s been installed with conditions that people can be self-sufficient,” continues Professor Lafleur in an interview he gave us.

Allowing member states to reinforce a right through a legislation of the EU, this directive defends the request to leave, for citizens from other member states who represent an “excessive burden” to the host’s social security and healthcare systems. Although the interpretation of this directive is still very ambiguous, almost half of the member states are currently applying this in their legislations. Belgium, one of the first members states who built the European Integration is also one of the countries who has reinforced this legislation and has taken stronger measures to detect situations which can be called as a burden to their national social security.

I believe there is procedure going on in the European Court of Justice. I supposed a decision would be taken in the coming month. And I think there will be some clarification as to what exactly can be considered a burden on public finances. There are different cases in Belgium that seem to be kind of strict interpretation of the legislation,” Professor Lafleur concludes.

Not everyone stops there, as people like Pier-Virgilio Dastoli, head of the Italian section of the European Movement goes further on that line, “The European Court of Justice shound definitely clear this once and for all, but we can’t expect this European Parliament to ask much in these months. What we can and should hope for is a stronger European Parliament after the next elections in May, to take a strong position on the subject”.

The directive from 2004 is clearly against the Treaties and the spirit that generated them,” Dastoli adds.

At this stage, we cannot help but wonder: as José Manuel Barroso will soon finish his mandate as President of the European Commission, could he be expelled from Brussels, too? What a satirical twist in the heart of Europe, indeed!

Eliana Capretti
Gemma Rosey
Ana Maria Sarmento

Brussels (IHECS alumni) 07/03/2014

Debating Europe
Executive Master in European Journalism 2014

Links to the cartoon and interview
with professor Lafleur

English version with professor interview:

Version with professor interview -Italian Subtitles:

Version with professor interview -Portuguese Subtitles:

English version of the animation only:

Italian version of the animation only:

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