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EU addresses concerns over 'benefit tourism'

(BRUSSELS) - The European Commission outlined on Monday proposals to tackle abuse of the right to free movement enjoyed by EU citizens, which critics claim has led to people migrating to gain benefits in richer states.

The European Union's executive addressed concerns of "abuse, fraud and error" hampering the free-movement ideal since the expansion of the bloc, in a policy paper sent to the 28 member states, the European Parliament and local authorities.

The Commission said its research showed EU citizens moving to other member states "are more likely to be economically active than nationals and less likely to claim social benefits."

With European Parliament elections set for May, immigration trends and pressures on welfare in popular destinations have become hot political issues.

An emerging EU alliance of right-wing parties has polarised the debate, as well as the British government's own plans to curb so-called "benefit tourism".

But in a bid to address abuse of the right to free movement that countries such as Britain and Germany have long complained about, the Commission set out five actions, including acting against marriages of convenience.

It also advised national and local authorities to apply EU social security coordination rules, address social inclusion challenges, promote the cooperation amongst local authorities, and ensure the application of EU free movement rules on the ground.

The EU is organising a conference of city mayors in February to address the concerns.

A recent study by University College London said immigrants have contributed GBP 25 billion ($40 billion, 30 billion euros) more to the British state over the last decade than they have taken out in welfare payments.

However, anti-immigration campaigners say the hiring of highly-educated, skilled and paid EU specialist workers skews those figures, painting instead an oft-repeated picture of low-wage municipalities struggling to house large immigrant groups.

Free movement of people: five actions to 
benefit citizens, growth and employment 
in the EU - background information

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