Mobile Welfare in a Transnational Europe: An Analysis of Portability Regimes of Social Security Rights

Between 1 October 2015 and 31 August 2016, the project implemented three of its five work packages. It completed the analysis of the implementation of the EU’s portability regulations for the four country pairs Bulgaria–Germany, Hungary–Austria, Estonia–Sweden and Poland–United Kingdom. This analysis indicated that state institutions continue to consider mobile ways of life to be problematic. This (implicit) view contributes to the institutional barriers to accessing and porting social security rights of mobile EU citizens between the new and the old EU member states. The policy briefs that have been prepared on the basis of this analysis are available on the TRANSWEL website, at

The next step was to conduct a quantitative survey among 1,400 mobile EU citizens in Germany, Austria, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The analysis provided no strong quantitative evidence of unemployment and family benefits being ported, but it showed strong quantitative evidence that in emergencies, mobile EU citizens rely on the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). These results confirm our finding that state institutions install institutional barriers to restrict access to and the portability of social security rights for mobile EU citizens. In addition, our project conducted a discourse analysis of interviews with experts from the relevant new and the old EU member states, which indicated that there are differences in how the old and the new member states view intra-EU mobility. During the interviews, the experts from the new EU member states emphasized how important it is for mobile EU citizens to receive equal treatment in the field of social security.

Project Summary

The aim of the TRANSWEL project was to disentangle the nexus between intra-EU migration/mobility and welfare in the enlarged European Union. Focusing on transnational labour movements within four pairs of countries (Hungary–Austria, Bulgaria–Germany, Estonia–Sweden and Poland–United Kingdom), it provided a comparative analysis of the formal organization and individuals’ use of European social coordination, which involves mobile Europeans’ access to social security rights and the portability of these rights from the sending to the receiving countries (and back) in the areas of unemployment, family benefits, health insurance and pensions.

The project contributes to the study of intra-EU mobility, welfare and European social citizenship through a comparative examination of regulations, discourses and mobile Europeans’ experiences of cross-border social security and social rights portability (Amelina et al. forthcoming). It offers insights into the selectivity criteria of welfare provision in the four above-mentioned social security areas that lie at the heart of European cross-border social security governance. In addition, it identifies specific discourses of welfare belonging (gendered, ethnicized/racialized, class-related images of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’) that frame institutional selectivity by constructing images of mobile EU-citizens who either do or do not ‘deserve’ social membership. The project also provides a detailed examination of inequalities that mobile EU citizens from the new EU countries experience when trying to access and port social security rights across borders and reveals how these experiences are linked to the institutional selectivity criteria of European cross-border social security governance.

Projects’ main outcome is that the institutional requirements of formal employment and long-term residence are the main selectivity criteria of European social security governance that generate the unequal welfare opportunities among mobile EU citizens. These welfare inequalities are framed by powerful discourses of welfare belonging with regard to largely non-desired Eastern European movers from the peripheries of the EU, only the self-sufficient of whom are regarded in a positive light. Most important, mobile EU citizens experience free movement as a vicious cycle of losses of welfare opportunities that result from individual decisions not to claim rights because of the barriers experienced and from perceptions of not being treated the same way as immobile welfare claimants.