I’ve been following the story of the United Kingdom’s plan to run advertising that will deter Romanian immigrants by playing up Britain as a bad destination, but it didn’t really pique my interest that much at first. After all, from an open borders point of view, there’s nothing wrong with anti-immigration speech — it’s anti-immigration coercion that has to clear a bar. Nevertheless, my interest was piqued, after I read this BBC article about a Romanian counter-campaign aimed at inviting British immigration to Romania.
The article is a fun read in of itself, but I also found this quote near the end, from an open letter signed by some Socialist Members of the European Parliament, to be noteworthy:
We are facing the danger of citizens of the newest member states being prevented from exercising their rights guaranteed to them by EU treaties.
What is more, we believe that a wave of hostile statements since the beginning of the year aims to stigmatise these citizens as second-class Europeans who pose a threat to the social systems, just because they want to exercise their basic rights to free movement and work.
I’m a bit of an EU-agnostic, at least when it comes to political integration. But on this particular point, I say to the Socialists, bravo! The only quarrel I would pick with their statement is that it seems curiously myopic for an ideology which started out as explicitly international and humanist in nature. What makes Europeans so much more innately entitled to the “basic rights [of] free movement and work”?
One could make a racial argument I suppose, but even Europeans are a bit antsy about declaring Western and Eastern Europeans as being of the same stock (this is part of the reason there exists British tension about Eastern European immigration in the first place). And besides, outside a vocal fringe, racial arguments are not very compelling.
One could argue that citizenship in an EU member state is what counts, because of the EU’s political nature. In a legal sense, this is absolutely correct. But in a moral sense, it seems odd that a basic right ought to derive from the state. The point of a basic right, after all, is that barring some disqualifying reason, we tend to assume a person in good standing should be entitled to it.
And moving around or working, in of themselves, are not political acts. One could argue that voting is a “basic right” but naturally something to be circumscribed by the state because of its nature. Well and true, but naturalisation, and arguably permanent settlement, are the only ways that immigration might be a political act. Simply exercising one’s freedom of movement and freedom to work is not a political act — it is a basic right.
The Socialists’ statement echoes with me because with a few emendations, it is a concise summary of the open borders moral philosophy:
Arbitrary immigration restrictions stigmatise people as second-class humans who pose a threat to the social system, just because they want to exercise their basic rights to free movement and work.