Youth Mobility: It is a goer?

Simon Usherwood |

Last week saw the Commission launch a proposal on youth mobility with the UK. Covering almost all activities (including doing nothing) for 18-30 year olds, the presentation was one of not penalising the kids for the unfortunate break-up of the relationship.

It was also a none-too-subtle pushback at the perceived efforts of the UK government to secure bilateral deals with EU member states. As much as London argued this was a more measured way to build links, using templates of third-state cooperation already in operation, there was pique both at unequal benefits for EU citizens and at some return to a divide and conquer approach by the British.

However you look at it, the effect was still a closing down of the bilateral work and instead sometime that – at first glance – appears to go a long way beyond that.

This, and do stop me if you’ve heard this before, has now itself been rejected by the UK (and the Labour party, albeit in somewhat flexible language) as a return to freedom of movement.

And this week’s graphic below shows, the proposal – while extensive – is very explicitly not freedom of movement. There is no new path to permanent residence, no general right to be treated like a national across the board, no removal of border checks. Hence the language of mobility, not free movement.

Partly this speaks to the nature of politics – for most people reading the proposal, it looks a lot like young people can do whatever they like, with its echoes of the referendum lines on EU nationals ‘taking our jobs’. At the very least, it can be presented as the (not so) thin end of wedge that opens up freedom of movement and thus single membership.

Partly it highlights how the levels of trust remain somewhat lower than some argue now exists. Windsor might have closed off the worst problems, but demonstrations of good faith necessarily take time to regain the lost ground. Neither side looks like it is quite yet ready to take things at face value.

All that said, the Commission didn’t have to make the offer – still to be signed off by member states, remember, so it’s not actually an offer yet – so as much as anything, this is signalling that there are options out there for whatever government is in office in London after the general election.

Put that together with continuing British work to engage on issues as diverse as Ukraine and Gibraltar and the anticipation (OK, my anticipation) that this year was likely to be a dead letter as everyone waited for Labour to come to power looks less justified.

It’s almost as if the UK and the EU can’t ignore each other, even if they wanted to.