Welfare Mediators as Game Changers? Deconstructing Power Asymmetries Between EU Migrants and Welfare Administrators

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Welfare Mediators as Game Changers? Deconstructing Power Asymmetries Between EU Migrants and Welfare Administrators


  • Nora Ratzmann Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, London School of Economics, UK
  • Anita Heindlmaier Salzburg Centre of European Union Studies, University of Salzburg, Austria / Department of Political Science and Sociology, University of Salzburg, Austria


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Abstract:  Under EU law, EU citizens constitute a particular group of immigrants, as they can, mostly without restrictions, move to, and reside in, another EU country, enjoying equal treatment with nationals in terms of accessing employment and social rights. However, as this article demonstrates, the settlement of EU citizens in another member state does not happen without hurdles. Through a careful in‐depth study of access to transnational welfare rights in practice, we analyse knowledge and resulting power asymmetries impacting interactions between certain EU migrant claimants and street‐level bureaucrats in Austrian and German social administrations. Following an inductive approach, based on an extensive data set of 144 qualitative interviews, this article first unpacks the different types of knowledge asymmetries relating to administrative procedures, formal social entitlements and the German language. We then analyse how such knowledge asymmetries may open space for welfare mediation in order to compensate for a lack of German language skills and to clarify misunderstandings about legal entitlements and obligations embedded in the claims system. Finally, our contribution offers a typology of welfare mediators and their characteristics, as not all types can be regarded as equally effective in reshaping power asymmetries. Overall, this article allows for insights into how welfare mediators, as more or less institutionalised opportunity structures, can shift policy outcomes in unexpected ways, enabling access to social benefits and services for otherwise excluded EU migrant citizens working, or seeking to work, in another EU member state.

Keywords:  European Union; free movement; migration; non‐take‐up; social assistance benefits; street‐level bureaucracy; welfare mediators

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v9i4.4642


© Nora Ratzmann, Anita Heindlmaier. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.