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Society and communities

Keeping the plane in the air: EU regulation in the Brexit era

The right to free movement is one of the four freedoms enjoyed by EU citizens, and it’s been the subject of my work for the past 19 years, but at no time has it been under the spotlight in quite the same way as it is now.

It gives citizens the right to enter, work, live, study, start a business and retire in any EU country they choose.

Contrary to some common misunderstandings it does not provide unfettered access to benefits for those simply looking for ‘an easy life’. Social security coordination was at the front and centre of the Brexit referendum narrative, during which an unconscionable amount of misinformation was propagated including the toxic myth of ‘benefit tourism’.

But these, like all EU arrangements, are reciprocal and equally benefit say a British scientist in Germany or UK pensioner living in Spain as they do a French aerospace engineer or Danish doctor working in the UK.

Coordination of social security and healthcare arrangements is necessary in order to ensure that mobile workers and citizens are protected in each of the member countries and to make sure that no one is left without the benefits and services they and their family are entitled to – which is where my contribution comes in.

Over the last two decades I have been the UK National Expert on a series of European Commission EU-wide Networks of Experts looking at free movement and the coordination of cross-border social security and healthcare for mobile workers and citizens.

My role has been to provide the Commission with high-quality legal expertise both by means of reports – informing its analysis when considering developments in the EU legal and policy framework – and in the form of ad hoc analytical support – assisting with the investigation of complaints, petitions, parliamentary questions etc.

"While myths and fictions may take root in a post-truth antiscience environment to win referenda, they cannot keep planes in the air"
Dr Simon Roberts

My interest in the EU began many years ago when I completed my PhD thesis on the subject of social security for migrants. During this time I was given great access to the Commission and became fascinated by its workings. I am privileged that I have been able to spend so much of my career being so closely involved with it.

Over the past two decades I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with the Commission, and government policymakers, lawyers and academics in the UK and the other 27 member countries, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. These are knowledgeable people of integrity who have earned the designation of ‘expert’.

I’m currently the UK national expert and an analytical expert on MoveS, the Commission’s network of experts on the free movement of workers and social security coordination.

Its recent Analytical Report on mutual assistance and sincere cooperation, published in December 2017, is designed to contribute to improving labour market cooperation and fluidity across Europe. The findings are informing EU policy making while engaging national governments, public employment services, trade unions and employer organisations on the rights and responsibilities of international businesses and mobile workers.

The coming months will prove to be extremely interesting. While myths and fictions may take root in a post-truth anti-science environment to win referenda, they cannot keep planes in the air.

If Brexit goes ahead, Government will have an even greater need for experts to advise upon, design, negotiate, evaluate, critique and revise new trade deals with the EU and elsewhere - of which complex and important social security and healthcare arrangements for workers will likely be a part.

Simon Roberts

Dr Simon Roberts, a leading international expert on the free movement of people across the EU, explains why the role has never been more important.

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