Jacob Heilbrunn

The European Commission's Battle Against Britain

The European Union has long sought to aggrandize its powers at the expense of member states. But its attempts to undermine the sovereignty of England have reached a new apogee. The European Commission, which is based in Brussels, is seeking to force London to extend welfare benefits to immigrants—known more caustically and popularly as "benefits tourists"—from within Europe.

Until now, London has followed a policy of a benefits test baed on residency. It has refused to extend benefits to anyone who showed up on its shores, figuring that this would prompt unemployed migrants from Eastern Europe to flock to Britain like iron filings to a magnet. British benefits tend to be more generous than elsewhere in Europe. The commission argues that this is a discriminatory policy—anyone should be allowed to claim child and pension benefits even if they have never contributed a farthing to the British system.

Now estimates are that this edict from the uneelected potentates in Brussels would cost the British Treasury some two billion pounds a year. A number of countries, including Germany and France, are protesting the decision. Liberal Democrat head Nick Clegg has made it clear that he regards the commission's claim as wrongheaded. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Work and Pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith, a longtime foe of the Brussels bureaucracy, observes,

The EU settlement is supposed to protect the right of member states to make their own social security arrangements. But we are now seeing a rising tide of judgements from the European institutions using other legal avenues to erode these rights, and we should be gravely concerned. As if this week's decision was not bad enough, we are also fighting increasing demands for the UK to pay benefits to those who have long since moved abroad, and who may never have made more than a token contribution to UK society.

Nor is this all. The European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso is also proposing a 0.1 percent tax on financial transactions taking place within the European Union. But London is the epicenter of such transactions and would be hit hardest by such a proposal. Half the proceeds would go to—guess who?—the commission itself.

Europe needs to right itself. It has multifarious problems, not least that a good number of its members located in southern Europe may be about to go belly-up. Yet the commission is focusing on impoverishing England. The path being followed by the commission is inimical to promoting European unity and fiscal recovery. The commission is promoting its own welfare, but not Europe's.