‘In Search of the Law’: Governing Homeless EU Citizens in a State of Legal Ambiguity

Research output: Working paper / PreprintWorking paperAcademic


This research paper studies the government of Union citizens leading a homeless life in a different Member State than their own. Homeless organisations and scholars have pointed at the ambiguous and complex nature of EU free movement law as a factor aiding homelessness amongst Union citizens and a lack of support by domestic authorities. This paper takes up this observation by asking how Member States – both at the central and local level – actually receive, interpret and enforce EU (case) law when coping with homeless Union citizens in their territory. After laying out the sociological and legal position of homeless Union citizen in the EU free movement framework, the paper presents the findings of empirical research that takes the government of homeless Union citizens in the Netherlands as a case study. It will be described how an increase in homeless Union citizens after Eastern enlargement triggered a process of ‘finding the law’, in which a range of actors strategically explore the possibilities and limits of EU law. While local authorities first engaged in independent efforts to interpret and apply EU law to determine entitlement to social support and access to shelter facilities, these were increasingly supported by the central government and migration authorities. The result is that a coherent, yet still locally fragmented structure for the support, exclusion and removal of homeless Union citizens is now in place in the Netherlands. This offers the reader both a (critical) prospect into which policies and practices might feedback – through litigation and policy emulation – to the European level and a ‘state of affairs’ for a more normative approaches to the question of how the European Union should govern homelessness amongst its mobile citizens.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
PublisherACCESS Europe
Number of pages28
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2017

Publication series

NameACCESS Europe Research Paper
PublisherACCESS Europe


  • Homelessness
  • EU Citizenship
  • free movement
  • directive 2004/38
  • expulsion
  • judicialisation
  • europeanisation


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