Migration – a Barrier for Economic Development for New Member States?

, by Doru Frantescu, Liviu David

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Migration – a Barrier for Economic Development for New Member States?

The latest report of the European Commission, concerning the readiness of Romania and Bulgaria to join the EU, shows that the European family will enlarge from EU-25 to EU-27 as of January 1st 2007.

When it comes to the question of the accession of new Eastern members, one of the issues on the agenda of European debate is migration. While the main issues raised in this context concerns the restrictions imposed by countries in the old EU-15 in order to protect their labor forces, there is little talk about the effects that migration has upon the development of new member states.

The mere accession of new members will not be enough for reducing the huge regional unbalances within the EU; it has to be coupled with adequate management of migration of the labor force which can be done properly only at EU level.

Ever since the fall of communism, a large number of Eastern workers have taken the path of migration towards the richer Western European countries in the quest for significantly higher wages. Romania has been no exception to the rule. Its citizens migrated westwards to countries like Germany, Great Britain, but particularly Spain, Italy and France, due to the common Latin origin and language similarities.

Results of structural changes

From a macroeconomic point of view, migration was caused by the structural changes suffered by the Romanian economy, meaning the transformation from a heavy industry and agriculture dominated economy to a service oriented one, which made many workers feel out of place.

The decrease in the weight of the two former branches was therefore accompanied by significant unemployment. Nevertheless, if one looks at the figures of unemployment in Romania in recent years, one sees that it has been a lot lower than in other European states, remaining constant around 7-8%. In other words, unemployment was exported through emigration, lowering the pressure on the social securities.

An ambivalent phenomenon which affects as much the countries of departure as the countries of arrival

But there is also the other side of the coin that is often forgotten. Unlike some Western Europeans, Romanians have their education, from elementary school to post-graduate studies, paid for by the state. Thus, when citizens migrate, the destination state benefits from their training for free, at the expense of the state of origin. Moreover, the brain drain phenomenon inhibits the medium-term development of the state of origin, as it has to face the lack of specialists in lots of fields.

All in all, it is obvious that the issue of migration affects not only the richer countries of the EU, as destination countries. It is not all about the restrictions that they impose, or not, in order to protect their labor force. Migration affects the origin countries at least to the same extent, since a bad management of it can inhibit significantly their future economic development.

The risk of increasing regional imbalance

If migration is improperly handled throughout the EU, Brussels will face increasing regional unbalances, an important impediment for the development of EU as a whole.

Therefore, the issue of migration should receive more attention, particularly by taking into account the effects that it has on the states of origin. This can only be done by transferring more authority in this field to institutions in Brussels in the attempt of enforcing the principle of solidarity among member states.

In its turn, when judging upon the measures to be implemented throughout the EU, Brussels needs to have the freedom of deciding beyond the selfish interest of member states.

The European Commission should evaluate the particular development directions of each member - both from the East and the West - and find together with national governments the best practices to control migration in a manner that is beneficial to all.

The proper management of migration is instrumental for EU’s ability to experience sustainable development in all of its parts and consequently for the long-term success of this great enterprise called European Union.


The following image entitled ’Hope...’ is taken from the free online media library Flickr.

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