Reference: Szelewa, D., Polakowski, M. European solidarity and “free movement of labour” during the pandemic: exposing the contradictions amid East–West migration. Comparative European Politics 20, 238–256 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41295-022-00287-4
COVID-19 regulations introduced in EU member states in 2020 meant serious restrictions for the free movement of persons, particularly workers. An ensuing gap in the supply of workers raised concerns of food shortages in the West. Governments in several EU member states enacted regulations to except the workers from restrictions facilitating their travel from Eastern Europe. In this study, we focus on EU-level responses to the COVID-19 crisis in relation to labour shortages in the food industry, and on the reactions in Germany and the UK. Firstly, referring to Schmidt (2020) and Wolff and Ladi (2020), we argue that the COVID-19 crisis placed the EU in a permanent emergency mode facilitating a quick response to enable labour mobility with less priority on the coordination of social rights. Secondly, the crisis exposed issues pertaining to working conditions, including housing and sanitation. Thirdly, differences between the reactions in Germany and the UK were consistent with the pre-existing trends in both countries. While a traditional emphasis on quality working conditions made it “appropriate” for the German government to initiate regulatory change, small-scale measures taken in the UK were directed towards maintaining an influx of migrant workers, rather than ensuring adequate working conditions.