Free movement and access to social security in the EU: The challenge of exporting unemployment benefits

The freedom of movement of EU workers and access to national welfare state systems has become a controversial topic among policymakers in recent years. To understand this, the article analyses the positions of Western European states towards the proposal of the European Commission to reform the European social security coordination. The structural problems of this reform and the current Regulation (EC) 883/2004 can be seen in the discussion on the export of unemployment benefits. Although Western European states have similar insurance-based and comprehensive unemployment systems, they have conflicting views on this issue. The article presents a comparative case study of Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany. Data was generated via expert interviews and policy documents and analysed through institutionalist approaches. By tracing the debates on the export of unemployment benefits, the article makes a more general argument about the debate on the free movement of workers and social security in the EU. It explains that policymakers’ main concern is not only the financial burden on their welfare systems, but also that the current Regulation (EC) 883/2004 and the reform proposal are incompatible with national monitoring and enforcement systems, which are designed to work best when the worker is in the Member State of last employment. This incompatibility of the coordination rules with national rules creates opposition among policymakers to the access of EU workers to national welfare systems.