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Debating the merits of intra-EU mobility: New MPI Europe report examines free movement trends, implications
Press Release
Thursday, February 28, 2013

Debating the merits of intra-EU mobility: New MPI Europe report examines free movement trends, implications

BRUSSELS — Free movement is at the heart of the European project. Yet the merits and impacts of intra-EU mobility have come under significant scrutiny recently as countries prepare for the lifting of restrictions at year's end on the movements of workers from Bulgaria and Romania.

A new Migration Policy Institute Europe report, How free is free movement? Dynamics and drivers of mobility within the European Union, provides a detailed assessment of intra-EU mobility at a time when the system itself is under pressure. It explores how movements have responded to key changes such as EU enlargements, the end of restrictions on workers of new member states, and the economic crisis. The report also examines the motivations for migration (employment, family, study, and retirement), and discusses the impacts on labour markets, public services, and communities.

Although the large-scale movements from east to west have dominated public rhetoric and academic research on intra-EU mobility, these movements are only a small slice of a longstanding, multidimensional phenomenon.

The report makes the case that rigorous evidence on the impact of intra-EU mobility is relatively scant. What evidence exists suggests intra-EU mobility has had a positive impact on Europe overall, but that these effects have not been distributed evenly across receiving countries and regions.

“Examining the magnitude and impacts of intra-EU mobility is about much more than east-to-west labour migration,” said MPI Europe President Demetrios Papademetriou. “The current knowledge base on the economic and social impacts of free movement is slim—in part because its evolving, flexible nature is difficult to capture in official data sources—but must be improved, to afford a greater understanding of the effects on communities, local workers, and the public purse.”

Public anxiety about mobile workers competing for native jobs and exploiting welfare systems—alongside Euroscepticism and protectionism exacerbated by Europe’s persistent economic woes—may be prompting countries such as the United Kingdom to rethink access to public services and other fundamentals.

Said MPI Europe Director Elizabeth Collett: "The prolonged jobs crisis has helped place intra-EU mobility under increased scrutiny. Yet, labour mobility within the European Union is a positive response to the Eurozone crisis, creating a mechanism to reduce disparities in employment opportunities. The European example provides the closest thing to a ‘laboratory’ on open borders, and as such merits further examination on the economic effects of reducing barriers to mobility."

The MPI Europe report, which also identifies a set of challenges countries may need to address as intra-EU mobility enters its next phase, is the first of two examining labour mobility in the European Union. A companion paper, due to be published next week, examines the integration needs of mobile EU citizens.

For more on MPI Europe and its research publications, visit www.mpieurope.org.


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MPI Europe provides authoritative research and practical policy design to governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders who seek more effective management of immigration, immigrant integration and asylum systems, as well as better outcomes for newcomers, families of immigrant background, and receiving communities throughout Europe. MPI Europe also provides a forum for the exchange of information on migration and immigrant integration practices within the European Union and Europe more generally.

MPI Europe, based in Brussels, builds upon the work that the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) has done for years in Europe. Through its Transatlantic Council on Migration and other initiatives, MPI has advised a number of EU presidencies and performed significant research and policy design on European and transatlantic topics. These range from the effects of the global economic crisis on migrant and native-born workforces to current and future demographic trends, citizenship policy, and the current debates over national identity.