22.3.2013 | Von:
Vera Hanewinkel

EU Internal Migration before and during the Economic and Financial Crisis – An Overview

Introduction: Migration in the EU

The principle of freedom of movement for employees belongs to the four basic freedoms of the European Union (EU). According to this, every citizen of an EU member state has the right to live and work in another member state. [1]
Mann mit Handy an einem Fenster zwischen Satellitenschirmen in BukarestMan between Satelite dishes in Bucharest: In light of the largest expansion in the history of the European Union a large wave of immigration into the heart of Europe driven by economic disparities was feared. (© AP)

European Union citizenship [2], implemented in 1992 by the Treaty of Maastricht, ensures each citizen additional rights as well. For example citizens of the EU must be treated the same as nationals in the filling of job vacancies (nationals take no precedence over other EU-state citizens). Furthermore, they are allowed to participate in municipal elections in the host country and therefore have the right to participate politically.


Spotlight: What Do EU Citizens Think of the Freedom of Mobility?

According to the Eurobarometer in spring 2012, EU citizens consider the freedom of mobility as the second most important achievement of the EU. Only the conservation of peace between the individual member states was given higher value.
Source: European Commission 2012

The provisions easing mobility have not, however, led to a much higher occurrence of mobility within the European Union. Only about two percent of EU citizens live and work in another EU member state. This figure has remained stable for about 30 years, on which even the EU eastward enlargement has had little effect.


Abbreviations – What Do they Stand for?

EU-15: all states that belonged to the EU before the 2004 expansion: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and the United Kingdom
EU-10: all states that acceded into the EU in 2004: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Cyprus
EU-8: all EU-10 states except Malta and Cyprus
EU-2: Bulgaria and Romania (accession: 2007)
EU-12 : EU-10 + EU-2
EU-25: EU-15 + EU-10
EU-27: all current EU member states (as of January 2013)

EU Internal Migration after the 2004 and 2007 Expansions

In light of the largest expansion in the history of the European Union in 2004, in which eight of the ten countries that acceded into the community were Eastern European states (EU-8), a large wave of immigration into the heart of Europe driven by economic disparities was feared. Therefore most of the EU-15 states established temporary provisions that initially restricted the freedom of mobility for citizens of the EU-8 states. Only Ireland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom granted full freedom of movement. At the end of April 2011 the period of transition in Austria and Germany that were the last countries to hold on to the restrictions on the freedom of movement for EU-8 citizens expired. In the face of Romania and Bulgaria’s accession in 2007 into the EU, many EU states again initially restricted the freedom of movement of citizens of these states. The transition periods for the EU-2 in all of the EU-25 states expire at the latest by the end of 2013.


Spotlight: Facts on the Immigrant Population in the EU

  • In 2011, 33.3 million foreigners lived in the EU-27, of which 20.5 million (about 2/3) were third country citizens.
  • More than 75% of foreigners living in the EU are spread over only five countries: Germany, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, and France (as of 1 January 2011).
  • In Luxemburg, Cyprus, Latvia, Estonia, Spain, Austria and Belgium the percentage of foreigners in the total population was more than 10% (as of 1 January 2011) (compared to Germany: 8.8%).
  • Romanian and Turkish citizens, with 2.3 million each, make up the largest groups of foreigners in the EU, followed by Moroccans (1.9 m) and the Polish (1.6 m).
  • 78% of Romanians that live in other EU member states live in either Italy (42%) or Spain (36%), 75% of Turks living in the EU reside in Germany, and 50% of all Portuguese migrants live in France (as of 1 January 2011).
Source: Vasileva 2012

The EU eastward expansion has led to an increase of labor mobility inside the European Union. In 2003, 1.6 million citizens from the EU-8 and the EU-2 lived in fifteen of the “old” member states. In 2009 there were 4.8 million (Fic et al. 2011). However, the migration from these countries is scattered unevenly amongst the EU-15. Ireland and Great Britain received 70% of the immigrants from the EU-8 states (Kahanec et al. 2009), while the majority (ca. 80%) of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants went to Spain and Italy.


Spotlight: Internal Migration and Identification with the EU

According to results of the PIONEUR project (duration: 2003-2006), EU citizens who are mobile within the EU feel more strongly connected with the EU than those who are not mobile. The so-called EU-Movers consequently contribute to European integration.
Source: http://www.obets.ua.es/pioneur/difusion/PioneurExecutiveSummary.pdf (accessed 1-11-2013)

In view of the immigration from the eight Eastern European new member states (EU-8), the temporary provisions adopted by a majority of the EU-15 states seem to have had an effect on the direction of migration flows inside the EU. This has become clear in the examples of Germany (restriction on freedom of movement until the end of April 2011) and the United Kingdom (no temporary provisions). In 2003 more than 50% of those EU-8 citizens that had migrated to an EU-15 country lived in the Federal Republic of Germany. By 2009 the figure was just at 30%. In this same time period the percentage in the United Kingdom rose from 15% (2003) to 35% (2009), thereby developing into a leading country of destination in the EU-15 for migrants from the EU-8 (Fic et al. 2011). Polish citizens made up the largest immigrant group (cf. Breford’s contributions). The temporary provisions alone, however, cannot explain the change in the direction of internal European migration after the EU expansion. Take Sweden as a case in point: Although Sweden likewise allowed freedom of movement for the citizens of the new member states from the very beginning, immigration from these states rose only moderately.


Spotlight: EU Internal Migrants' Motives to Migrate

Sixty percent of migrants from the new member states emigrate for principally economic reasons, while this is only the case for 40% of migrants from the EU-15, whose migration is more strongly motivated by other factors such as love relationships, the desire for autonomy and the search for a fulfilling lifestyle (lifestyle migration).
Source: Bonin et al. 2008; European Commission 2010

Effects of the Economic and Debt Crises on EU Internal Migration

Brief Outline of the World Economic Crisis

The global economic and debt crises began in 2007 with the collapse of the speculative and inflated real estate market in the USA. The bursting of the real estate bubble brought the banking sector into distress because many credit users could not repay their loan debts. The financial and credit crisis spread quickly to other countries. Because the banks restricted the allocation of loans, many businesses hence fell into financial difficulties. Investments had to be deferred, numerous businesses filed bankruptcy, and overall demand and production fell, while simultaneously unemployment rose (Beck/Wienert 2009). In many countries of the world the financial crisis caused a recession. The national debt of many countries rose as they had invested large capital sums to save the banks and to stimulate the economy.

From the World Economic Crisis to the European Financial Crisis

Each European state was affected by the economic crisis to a different extent. In Spain the real estate sector collapsed. The UK’s economic performance sank due to its high dependency on the financial sector. The Baltic States fell into a deep recession, whereas Poland’s economy continued to grow during the crisis.

While some countries, including Germany, recovered quickly from the economic crisis, in the autumn of 2009 serious budget problems began showing themselves in some countries in the euro area which had already partially existed before the onset of the global economic and financial crisis and were then further exacerbated by it. It was thus that Ireland overextended itself when saving its banks and had to be bailed out by the euro rescue package (EFSF) [3] which was enacted in June 2010.

Currently the so-called PIGS states (Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain) in the south of Europe are being hit by large budget deficits and even to some extent by a threat of national bankruptcy. The most publically visible aspect of the current crisis is the high unemployment, which mainly affects young people and immigrants (primarily from third countries).

Unemployment in the EU (September 2012)Unemployment in the EU (September 2012) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)
Youth Unemployment in the EU (September 2012)Youth Unemployment in the EU (September 2012) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)

Immigration from the New Member States

The global economic crisis and the financial crisis in the euro area have affected migratory movements inside the EU. According to OECD data, internal European migration based on EU freedom of movement between 2007 and 2010 decreased by more than 470,000 people (OECD 2012). Migration from countries that acceded into the EU in 2004 and 2007 into the EU-15 slowed significantly. A strong return migration to countries of origin especially stands out in 2009 (European Commission 2011). The number of immigrants from the EU-8 in the United Kingdom fell slightly, and in Ireland even heavily (cf. Breford’s contributions). Between 2006 and 2010 Spain showed a significant decline in the Bulgarian and Romanian immigrant population. In 2007, 44% of EU-2 citizens that had immigrated into the EU-15 lived in Spain, and in 2010 there were still 37%. Because the total population of the EU-2 population living in the EU-15 has not diminished in this time period, it can be assumed that this decrease is due to secondary migration, meaning migrants left Spain to migrate into other countries. In fact, Italy demonstrated an increase in its EU-2 population in the same time period, from 32% to 37% (European Commission 2011). Other countries like Germany, France and the United Kingdom also registered increases in EU-2 populations. The economic and financial crisis has shown itself to be a contributor to the change in the destination choice of migrants, the large part of EU-2 migrants living in Spain and Italy notwithstanding.


Percentage of Female Immigrants Is Growing

The economic and financial crisis has also had an effect on the gender makeup of the migrant population in some countries. The share of women in the total foreign workforce rose in Spain, Italy and Ireland. This development came about because sectors in which predominantly men are employed, such as the building industry, were particularly hit by the crisis. However, female-dominated employment areas, like the nursing sector, continue to have a high demand for foreign workers.
Source: IOM 2010

Southern European Immigration

Several countries in the heart of Europe, including the United Kingdom and Germany (cf. contribution by Engler/Hanewinkel), have shown a current increase in immigration from Southern Europe. In particular, young people from Greece, Spain, and Portugal who cannot find work in their home countries are immigrating (cf. contributions by Engling and González-Martín). In media reports they are already being referred to as the “new guest workers” (Völker 2012). In contrast to the Southern European labor force that were recruited into many Central and Northern European countries from the 1950s to 1970s, however, these “new guest workers” are predominantly highly qualified and already have experience to some extent in inner-European mobility (e.g. through stays abroad within the framework of the EU-sponsored ERASMUS program). Their immigration is perceived positively in states like Germany which struggle with a lack of qualified employees in several regions and branches.

Future Prospects

EU internal migration offers the chance to balance out the disequilibrium in the labor markets of the individual member states (Bräuninger 2011). Businesses that are searching for specialists profit from immigration. At the same time emigration out of the crisis-shaken PIGS states contributes to the abatement of pressure on the labor markets of these countries. This emigration is observed with concern because it is feared that the flight of young, well qualified people (brain drain) could negatively influence economic development in the long term. How EU internal migration will develop in upcoming years depends on whether the economic disparities inside the EU are balanced out or if they will continue to persist.

Translation into English: Jocelyn Storm


For a summary of the freedom of movement provisions according to Directive 2004/38/EC see http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/justice_freedom_security/citizenship_of_the_union/l33152_en.htm (accessed 2-24-2013).
For more detailed information see http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/justice_freedom_security/citizenship_of_the_union/index_en.htm (accessed 2-24-2013).
The euro rescue package EFSF (European Financial Stability Facility) was superseded by the European Stability Mechanism – ESM – in 2012.
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