Do we need a 29th social security system in Europe? Is this even a relevant question? Let me take you through my thinking. Promise, it won’t take long.
Today, we technically have in Europa a free labour market: any national of an EU member state can go work in another EU member state, without having to obtain a work permit or anything of that order, like a residence permit or a sponsoring company. Nothing, at least in theory, stands in the way of a current graduate to live and work in the 28 different countries the EU is rich.
So why isn’t this happening in large numbers? Why do we not see massive mobility in the EU workforce? What’s stopping these graduates, or anybody for that matter, to pack up and go work somewhere in Europe where the labour market is somewhat decent? Is it the language? Is it the culture? Is it a personal thing? Could be all three. And that’s just fine.
What it can’t be however is anything related to work like labour laws, social security systems, pension systems, health insurance, etc… nor anything with educational degrees.
Let’s focus on the first barrier: working in 10 different countries fragments and disrupts first and foremost a normal pension build-up and transparent health insurance, 2 vital life components. This hinders mobility and puts up an unnecessary barrier to the freedom of labour. It also comes with a high administrative burden and cost. Detrimental to all those impacted, except the consulting firms who benefit financially from this inefficiency.
Today we have 28 different systems that govern the world of work in the EU. All quite alike but all very different, no matter whom you talk to. There is also absolutely no point in trying to harmonize these 28 different systems. You cannot defeat 28 established bureaucracies nor can you convince any national parliament to abandon their version of the holy cow. This won’t happen in my lifetime, nor in that of any of my children or even grandchildren. The last thing I want to be is Don Quichote tilting windmills.
So, what about introducing a 29th system employees and employers can opt in for addressing all the mentioned issues? A system that is transnational and valid in every country that signed up for the benefits of a unified labour market? If there is a unified labour market, why not a social security system and a labour regulation system reflecting that unified market, on top of all the current systems, uniquely designed for the migrant worker or company?
What I am proposing is not new and already exists for the happy few: the European functionaries in Brussels already enjoy this transnational system, superseding the one of their country of origin. Let’s just open it up to all European citizens. Not only to those happy few. It might need solid reform first but that should not stop us. We have a European Parliament bored out of its skull looking for something useful to do.
Not only would the mobile ex-pat/im-pat employee benefit but also the employer: isn’t every business, competing in the EU looking for a level-playing field? The tax on labour is by everyone’s admission too high in most EU-countries. This could be a gentle incentive to start shifting that burden. My guess is that only mobile employees would opt in, just like employers in need of those qualified resources. It may become the dominant system over time. And if I may dream a little, it could be the system my grandchildren enjoy.