• What We Can Learn From European Free Movement

    There is no doubt that a freedom of movement initiative between the U.K, Canada, Australia and New Zealand would be very much based upon the free movement principles of the European Union.

    As all members of the European community are bound by Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, each citizen is afforded the right to:

    • Look for a job in any of the member states;  
    • Work there without needing a work permit;
    • Reside there for that purpose;
    • Stay there even after employment has finished;
    • Enjoy equal treatment with nationals in access to employment, working conditions and all other social and tax advantages. 
    These would undoubtedly be the founding principles of any future freedom of movement agreement between Commonwealth countries, but one must always err on the side of caution with their implementation. Where freedom of movement between European countries has provided great benefits in terms of aiding the economy, minimising labour shortages and promoting international relations, it has also caused particular strains in terms of differing cultures, language barriers and the persistence of European federalists to unite the continent under a "one nation Europe".

    As with all policy reforms, the good must always be accompanied by the bad.

    So what can we do to minimise the negative affects of opening our borders to other Commonwealth nations? Winston Churchill once said that "those who forget the past are condemned to relive it", and making the same errors as the European Union would not only prove unprogressive, but could even slow down all negotiations towards an open, transparent border arrangement between the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

    One of the main obstacles facing the European Union (even today) is linguistic diversity. Speaking from a British perspective, opening our borders to native German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Bulgarian, Estonian, Greek and Romanian speakers (just to name a few) has always been a strain in terms of assimilation and, to some degree, cultural relations. With an influx of European citizens crossing our borders from a variety of backgrounds (and languages), many within society have become concerned with the loss of "English identity", and no where has seen this affect more so than British primary/elementary schools.

    In Gascoigne primary school in Barking, East London, nine out of ten pupils spoke English as their first language in 1999. Today, that figure has fallen to one out of ten, with over 60 languages now spoken at the school, most of which come from the European mainland.

    Should a free movement agreement between the U.K, Canada, Australia and New Zealand be enacted, we are fortunate enough for this to not be a problem (at least to the degree that we have seen within the European Union).

    Of course, multiple languages are spoken across our four nations, including English, Québécois French, Māori, Welsh, Gaelic and numerous Australian aboriginal languages, but we must remember that a significantly vast majority of citizens from our four nations either speak English natively, or speak it with professional efficiency as a second language. Should our borders open between each other in the near future, the issue of non-English speaking citizens emigrating to English speaking regions will be practically non-existent compared to the difficulties caused by similar circumstances within the European Union.

    Jean-Claude Juncker is supportive of a federalist EU
    (photo: Getty images)
    It is no secret that certain statesmen within the European Union also believe in the ideology of a federalist Europe...an ideology that has been advocated since the days of the European Economic Community (EEC). Since the 1960's, the European dream has advanced from being a collection of sovereign nations collaborating under trade agreements, to being a majority of nations united under one European parliament, one central bank and one common currency. Not only has this caused deep concern with many European citizens (content with trade arrangements within the EU but against any creation of a "United States of Europe"), but has also caused many citizens to fear the loss of their national identity, heritage and patriotism.

    It is imperative to remember that if a free movement initiative was realised between the U.K, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it would be absolute folly to follow in the footsteps of Europe in this way.

    Each of our four countries has strong national traditions and identities, and removing those identities for the sake of branding ourselves "Commonwealth citizens" (in the same way as the EU wishes for member states to be solely "European") would be a tragedy for our national honours. Each of our nations has something to show the world that is symbolically unique, and just because we can advocate open borders between each other, it does not mean that we must persevere for the loss of national identity like Europe. We can open our borders yet still remain independent and sovereign.

    Of course, there are many more things to be learnt from the free movement program within the European Union (some to be emulated and some to be avoided), but considering that freedom of movement within the EU has been successfully implemented, there is no reason why freedom of movement between 4 sovereign Commonwealth nations could not be implemented also.

    If free movement within the EU can function between 28 member countries, with over 500 million citizens, who speak different languages and identify with different cultures, it is not only likely that free movement can exist between the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it is a certainty. We share the same Head of State, the same native language, the same common-law legal system, the same Westminster style parliamentary system, the same respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and the same westernised culture. In addition to sharing similar economical and sociological policies, it is hard to imagine why free movement between our countries could not exist.

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