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Introducing the EU rights project   

May 18, 2016 • By

EU migrants have become a hot political topic in the UK, and the focus of quite a lot of legal changes. The thrust of these changes is that it should be harder for them to claim welfare benefits. But many EU academics work under the assumption that EU law entitles EU migrant workers to straightforward equal treatment, on the basis of EU citizenship and free movement law.

This project asks how real the rights of EU citizenship are, and how they take shape in UK law, case law, and practice. It asks about the basis and meaning of equal treatment, and highlights how the changes impact differently upon women, older people and disabled people. It analyses the history of the concept of nationality discrimination, contrasting it with other prohibited types of discrimination.

To properly study the theory of citizenship, the study investigates the lived experiences of EU migrants, and analyses live legal claims. But there are so few avenues of help available to EU migrants, the only way to to reach these claims, and appeals, is to help them to happen. Using an ESRC ‘Future Research Leaders’ grant, working with a number of Citizens Advice Bureaux and York Law School I have set up a specialist advice and advocacy service on the complex subject of EU welfare law. EU migrant workers and UK nationals often find it difficult to access their entitlements, putting them at risk of poverty and exploitation.

I am taking on cases and consulting on cases around the country, discovering at first hand how well EU welfare rights work in practice. Working with clients to use EU law should help me to interrogate the substance of EU citizenship.

This kind of research, ‘EU law in action’, is exciting, challenging, interdisciplinary, and very new in the area of EU law; ESRC reviewers described it as ‘groundbreaking’. It makes use of academic expertise in order to help individuals and their families, while also challenging potential infringements of EU law.

It is, I think, the only way to really ‘test’ EU rights.

So far, the problems we are encountering raise big questions about the meaning and reality of free movement law, discrimination law, UK welfare law and social justice.


The EU rights project: principal investigator, Dr Charlotte O’Brien