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Legitimating intra-European movement discourses: understanding mobility and migration


Free movement of people can be considered as a contested issue. While the European Commission stimulates a further ‘harmonization’ of citizen ‘mobility’, some member-states question the ‘burdens’ of ‘EU migration’. To understand these differences, it contains a multi-level focus on the meaning-making practices of policy actors at the European Commission and in the Netherlands. The analysis reveals a European legal discourse legitimated by expert authorization which differs with a Dutch national discourse legitimated by mythopoesis. As such, it displays the significance of a discursive approach since it shows the contested meaning-making practices and its policy consequences around intra-European movement.

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  1. 1.

    To not step into the migration or mobility discourse of the European Commission or a member-state, this neologism helps to better understand this issue and to create conceptual distance.

  2. 2.

    This is probably informed by a constitutive approach on discourse, which suggests that ‘actions and practices are constituted by concepts and beliefs’ (Connolly 1983, p. 36).

  3. 3.

    One Head of the Sector Free Movement of Workers; one policymaker at Social Security Coordination.

  4. 4.

    Thanks to Karin Zelano within the project IMAGINATION (www.project-imagination.eu).

  5. 5.

    ‘Metock’ refers to the European Court of Justice Decision on the rights of non-EEA country members who are married to an EEA citizen in the UK and is employed, self-employed or self-sufficient.

  6. 6.

    For aims of clearance, this is a different expert group than the Free movement of Workers Advisory Committee which from 2011 consists of governmental actors, trade union representatives and employers’ association representatives.

  7. 7.

    Their proactive stance is shown when they refer to the Commission as the ‘Guardian of the Treaties’ (SOLVIT).

  8. 8.

    After a period in which EU citizens were termed as ‘MOE-landers’ (which is a Dutch abbreviation of ‘Middle- and Eastern European-landers’). This label was used in the period 2003–2013; after 2013, it became abandoned, since most policy actors acknowledged that this label was not appropriate anymore.

  9. 9.

    Firstly, a managerial group structure (of political representatives); secondly, a steering group structure (of administrative supervisors); and thirdly, a working group structure (of administrative policymakers) were set up to collaborate and discuss issues regarding CEE migration.

  10. 10.

    This municipality network was a group of almost 80 municipalities which included 5 annual meetings.

  11. 11.

    'Act Exceptional Measures for Urban Problems’ (also called ‘the Rotterdam Act’).


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I would like to thank Karin Zelano (Gothenburg University) in doing an important part of the fieldwork and sharing the interview transcripts for the purpose of this article.


This work was supported by the Joint Program Initiative Urban Europe under Grant Number 438-12-412 (IMAGINATION).

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Correspondence to Mark M. A. C. van Ostaijen.

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van Ostaijen, M.M.A.C. Legitimating intra-European movement discourses: understanding mobility and migration. Comp Eur Polit 18, 1–20 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41295-019-00152-x

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  • Discursive legitimacy
  • Discourse
  • Meaning-making
  • Migration
  • Mobility