European Commission report proves: Europe froze during the pandemic

UM – 04/2022

In March, the European Commission published its Statistical Report on the Coordination of Social Systems. The focus during the 2020 reporting period was on the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted cross-border social service provision. The result is not surprising. The report shows: COVID-19 has severely restricted mobility within the EU.

This can be seen in the portable documents that let one avail social and health services across borders: form A1, which is used in cases of posting, form S2, which authorises planned cross-border medical care and document U2 for the export of unemployment benefits.

Cross-border healthcare

The number of planned cross-border treatments decreased by 26 per cent in 2020 over the previous year. The report also shows the decline in unplanned medical care such as that related to foreign travel. However, their extent will only become apparent in the 2021 statistics. Overall, the share of expenditure incurred by German health insurance for treatment abroad within the EU/EFTA area is small anyway, at less than 0.1 per cent.

Labour mobility

Postings to another Member State were down 25 per cent, but did not fall below 2018 levels, allowing conclusions to be drawn about the sustained increase in labour mobility within EU/EFTA countries. For cross-border commuters, labour mobility remained stable, as reflected in the export of family benefits (+0.1 per cent). Overall, 19 per cent fewer U2 documents have also been issued, which means that significantly fewer people have set out to seek new job prospects abroad during the crisis.

Retirement benefits

By contrast, exports of old-age, survivors' and disability pensions have not changed much. Again, this is not surprising and is further evidence of the lack of movement during the pandemic.

EU law "coordinates" social systems

European freedom of movement and the coordination of social security systems are two sides of the same coin. No citizen would move to another Member State if he or she loses entitlements to sickness, accident, unemployment or old-age benefits.

The complex law of cross-border coordination of social benefits is codified in Regulation (EC) 883/2004 on the coordination of social systems and Regulation (EC) No. 987/2009 laying down the procedure for implementing them. Both laws ensure that cross-border situations are treated equally, insurance periods in different Member States are added together, benefits can be exported, and there is an equal framework of law that is binding for all.