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Fairer rules promised in EU benefits shake-up

15 December 2016, 15:50 CET
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Fairer rules promised in EU benefits shake-up

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(BRUSSELS) - The EU Commission unveiled an overhaul of social security rules Wednesday, acknowledging a Brexit campaign which highlighted 'benefits tourism' as a major concern of voters.

The EU executive said the proposal strikes a balance between facilitating free movement of workers and protecting their rights, while reinforcing the tools for national authorities to fight risks of abuse or fraud.

It does this by making a closer link between the place where contributions are paid and where benefits are claimed, ensuring a fair financial distribution of burden between Member States.

The EU executive was eager to underline the importance of free movement as a "fundamental right" which "brings benefits to workers, employers and the economy at large, helping tackling labour shortages and skills gaps".

However, "mobility needs to be based on clear, fair and enforceable rules", said Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Marianne Thyssen: "This is what our proposal to update the EU rules on social security is about: it safeguards free movement and protects citizens' rights, while strengthening the tools to address possible abuse."

The proposal updates the EU rules in the following four areas:

1. Unemployment benefits:

  • Job seekers may export their unemployment benefits from the current minimum period of 3 months to at least 6 months. This will give them a better chance to find work, and help tackle EU-wide unemployment and skill mismatches.
  • For frontier workers (who live in one country, work in another country, and go home at least once a week), the Member State where they worked for the last 12 months would become responsible for paying unemployment benefits. This reflects the principle that the Member State which has received contributions should pay benefits.
  • Member States may require that someone has worked for at least 3 months on its territory before a person who becomes unemployed can rely on previous experience in another Member State to claim unemployment benefits.

2. Long term care benefits:

This proposal clarifies what long-term care benefits are and where mobile citizens can claim such benefits. This will provide more legal certainty to a growing group of citizens in our ageing societies relying on long term care.

3. Access of economically inactive citizens to social benefits:

Based on case law of the European Court of Justice, the proposal clarifies that Member States may decide not to grant social benefits to mobile citizens which are economically inactive citizens – this means those who are not working nor actively looking for a job, and do not have the legal right of residence on their territory. Economically inactive citizens have a legal right of residence only when they have means of subsistence and comprehensive health coverage.

4. Social security coordination for posted workers:

Administrative rules on social security coordination for posted workers are to be strengthened. The Commission wants to make sure national authorities have the right tools to verify the social security status of such workers and sets clearer procedures for cooperation between Member State authorities to address potentially unfair practices or abuse.

Finally, the Commission says the proposal does not modify the existing rules on export of child benefits. No indexation of child benefits is foreseen: the country of work of the parent(s) remains responsible for paying the child allowances, and that amount cannot be adjusted if the child resides elsewhere. Less than 1% of child benefits in the EU are exported from one Member State to another.


The EU provides rules to coordinate national social security systems and ensure social security protection when you move within Europe (EU28, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). The rules only provide for the coordination of social security systems to determine which system a mobile citizen is subject to. The rules prevent a person from being left without social protection, or having double coverage in a cross-border situation.

Each Member State is free to determine the features of its own social security system, including which benefits are provided, the conditions for eligibility, how these benefits are calculated and what contributions should be paid, and for all social security branches, such as old age, unemployment and family benefits provided that such national contributions respect the principles of EU law, in particular concerning equal treatment and non-discrimination. In this context, Member States are free to monitor developments regarding the payment of those benefits, including to citizens residing in other Member States. The Administrative Commission for the Coordination of Social Security Systems plays a particular role to exchange such information.

Questions and Answers on the revision of social security coordination rules

Communication amending Regulation EC/883/2004 on the coordination of social security systems and regulation EC/987/2009 laying down the procedure for Regulation EC/883/2004

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