Many years ago when I lived in the Netherlands, I knew someone who had moved to Holland to look for a job. Being English and, therefore, an EU citizen, he was entitled to relocate but the Dutch authorities made very clear that he had no right to claim any benefits. As I type this, I realise that I can tell a similar story about the time we moved to Belgium.
With this in mind, I have always struggled to understand why UK politicians continue to make such an issue of so-called benefit tourism. If the Dutch and Belgian administrative systems are able to withhold benefits without demanding a treaty change, why can’t Britain.
It’s a question that is touched on by Mark Leonard, who also supplies an answer.
The questions around access to benefits are more sensitive — although many member states are puzzled that the Cameron government doesn’t do more to deal with these issues by changing British policy — rather than demanding European action. Government insiders explain that the reasons are partly to do with the unwillingness of the Department of Work and Pensions, which is reluctant to adapt its archaic systems and struggling IT — they reckon that it would be easier to get treaty change than to change some of these problems.
You read that right. The DWP IT systems are such a mess, that it’s easier to ask 26 other governments to change their IT systems than it is for the DWP to fix their own mess. Do I think this is plausible? Yes, I do.
This is an annoyingly common pattern — and not one confined to the UK. National politicians are all too quick to blame the EU for their own failings and shameless when it comes to taking credit when the EU does something useful or popular.