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http://www.independent.co.uk/news/World/Europe/2001-02/eu050201.shtml

EU plans to issue 'identity number' for every citizen

By Stephen Castle in Brussels and Andrew Grice

5 February 2001

Ambitious plans to help European Union citizens move more freely between countries during the course of their working lives may include giving every person an individual EU social security number.

A task force to be set up at next month's summit of European leaders in Stockholm is to study the proposal as part of a drive to sweep away barriers stopping people from moving easily between member states.

Senior EU officials are pressing for a feasibility study into a common social security coding system for Europe. This would enable entitlements to benefits and insurance contributions to be portable for each person, regardless of which country they might live in.

Officials stressed that the move would not be designed to win new powers for the EU, and that the levels of state benefits and insurance contributions would continue to be fixed by national governments. But a more unified system would enable those who pay social security contributions while working in another European country to claim benefits when they returned home.

If adopted, the controversial plan would bring American-style mobility to the European employment market. In America, people readily move from state to state to look for jobs, but only a tiny minority of EU workers are prepared to migrate to another country for work. In the EU, 0.5 per cent of the working population moves abroad each year compared with 2 to 3 per cent of Americans who move states to find work.

Officials in Brussels acknowledge that Europeans encounter more problems in changing countries, including language difficulties. However, they point out that while states in America have different benefit rules, every American has a nine-digit social security number, which records contributions throughout the country.

The British Government, which wants to encourage freer movement of workers within the EU, is keeping an open mind about the proposal until it sees the details. Ministers would oppose any move towards common EU benefit levels but do not believe Brussels is trying to achieve this.

However, an EU-wide coding system would be politically sensitive, fuelling Tory claims that Britain was being sucked into an EU superstate.

A spokesman for Anna Diamantopoulou, the social affairs commissioner, said the remit of the task force remained under discussion but added: It will look at the A to Z of legal, administrative and practical problems for people living and working in different countries which obstruct mobility, with a view to removing these obstacles by 2005.

Frits Bolkestein, the European commissioner responsible for the internal market, will discuss plans to improve labour mobility with Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, today.

In a speech in London, Mr Bolkestein will welcome the British Government's support for moves to create an EU single market but accuse ministers of failing to match their words with actions.

The European Commission wants the Stockholm summit to look at other issues such as the mutual recognition of professional qualifications throughout the EU, another barrier to free movement of labour.