The conditionality of EU freedom of movement: normative change in the discourse of EU institutions

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Christof Roos
Laura Westerveen

ABSTRACT

Freedom of movement (FOM) in the European Union (EU) has become a highly salient issue in political and public debates. Most of the literature on FOM is heavily focused on the judiciary interpretation of this EU right, or on conflicting attitudes towards FOM within the national arena. However, the EU and its institutions as political actors that define and shape the content and meaning of FOM are largely absent from this literature. If mentioned, EU actors are often depicted as ideological and orthodox defenders of FOM. We argue that this perspective is empirically inaccurate, which leads to skewed theoretical assumptions. It not only overlooks an EU-level discourse on FOM that has changed significantly in recent years but also fails to acknowledge that even fundamental rights and key pillars of EU integration can be subject to discursive change at the EU level. A frame analysis of documents from the European Commission, the European Council, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament from 2004 to 2016 forms the basis of our argument. During this period, restrictionist arguments have increasingly entered EU actors’ discourse on FOM. Viewed almost as an absolute right of EU citizens during the 2000s, FOM during the 2010s has been framed in terms of the conditions underlying the exercise of this right. We conclude that EU actors are engaged in a political debate over what FOM means and that their discourse has shifted to support an increased conditionality of FOM.

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