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22.3.2013 | Von:
Lisa Breford

Short Overview: East-West Migration after the EU Enlargement

The EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007 has had a significant impact on migration flows from the Central and Eastern European member states. [1]
Deutsche Jugendliche tragen bei den Feierlichkeiten zur EU-Erweiterung am Dreilaenderpunkt in Zittau am Freitag 30. April 2004 eine EU-Fahne auf einer Ponton Bruecke ueber die Neisse. Die Neisse markiert bei Zittau die Grenze mit Tschechien und Polen.Germans carry the EU flag across the river Neisse at a ceremony for the EU enlargement in April 2004. (© picture alliance / AP Photo)

As we can see in Figure 1 and 2 below, the stocks of nationals from the ten new member states in the EU-15 countries increased significantly after the enlargement of the EU in 2004. In contrast, migration flows from the old member to the new member states and those between the new member states of 2004 and 2007 did not change significantly over the same time period (Fic et al. 2011).

Fig. 1: EU-8 and EU-2 migration to the EU-15 (stocks)Fig. 1: EU-8 and EU-2 migration to the EU-15 (stocks) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)
Fig.2: EU-2 migration to EU-10 (stocks), 2004-2009Fig.2: EU-2 migration to EU-10 (stocks), 2004-2009 Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)

While the overall numbers of migration from the new to the old member states have been significant, the actual size of emigration movements differed for every new member state. Not only did the destination countries for migration from Bulgaria and Romania (Italy and Spain) differ to those of the EU-8 states (Ireland, UK, Luxembourg) but also did the size of the share of the population that emigrated vary significantly (Fic et al. 2011). On the one end of the scale Hungary and Slovenia are the two countries that experienced the smallest outflow relating to their total population (below 1%), whereas Romania experienced an outflow of nearly 9% of its population. The reasons for these differences can be found in the different economic situation in each country but also other factors such as their geographic position (Fic et al. 2011).


The fact that Slovenia was the most prosperous among the new member states reduced the incentive for its citizens to emigrate. In 2010 the unemployment rate was 7.2% (International Migration Outlook 2012, p. 270), which meant that it was significantly lower than in the Baltic States (for example Estonia had an unemployment rate of 16.8% in 2010) (International Migration Outlook 2012, p. 227). Furthermore, due to the geographic position of their country, Slovenian citizens can commute easily to Italy without having to migrate (Fic et al. 2011).


The other state with a rather low emigration rate, Hungary, showed the lowest unemployment rate among the new member states in 2003, which meant that this push factor for migration was less strong than in other EU-8 states. However, the economic situation worsened in the following years, resulting in an increasing unemployment rate (to 11.2% in 2010) (International Migration Outlook 2012, p. 237). Nevertheless, migration outflows from Hungary remained at a low level. One reason for this could be rising wages and a strong welfare system, which also supports home ownership. As a result, “[i]n Hungary, the majority of the population are homeowners” (Galgóczi et al. 2011, p. 20), a fact that may discourage emigration (Galgóczi et al. 2011, p. 20).


Romania has witnessed large-scale population outflows since its EU accession in 2007, continuing its long-term history as a country of emigration. Due to difficulties with migration data it is difficult to determine the actual size of emigration, however, “[t]he number of Romanians … abroad in 2010 is estimated to be around 3 million” (International Migration Outlook 2012, p. 264). Romania has been hit by the recent recession relatively hard, with GDP growth rates falling from 4.2% in 2005 to -6.9% in 2009. In 2010 the country was still in a recession, however, the GDP growth rate had recovered to -1.1% (International Migration Outlook 2012, p. 265). Hence, push factors for out migration remained relatively strong.


Poland, the largest economy among the new member states, maintained positive GDP growth rates throughout the economic crisis (1.6% in 2009, 3.9% in 2010 (International Migration Outlook 2012, p. 261)). Nevertheless, Poland has experienced large-scale emigration since 2004. Polish migrants accounted for the majority of the migration flows to Ireland and the UK after the EU enlargement in 2004. In the UK, Poles accounted for 66% of all migrants from the new member states, increasing the Polish population in the UK from 75,000 in 2003 to 532,000 in 2010 (Office for National Statistics 2011, p. 1). However, during the crisis migration flows slowed down significantly (cf. Article on Ireland and the United Kingdom).

Return Migration

Generally, the expected effect of the crisis was an increase in return migration, as migrant workers were likely to be hit the hardest by worsening conditions in receiving countries during the crisis. This, combined with a relatively minor economic decline for example in Poland was seen to act as a strong pull factor for return migration (Barcevičius et al. 2012, p. 5). While such return migration took place, it is hard to establish its actual size, not only because of incomplete or differing data sets, but also because of the fact that migrants within the EU are very flexible due to the freedom of movement. They can therefore alternate their migration plans at short notice in order to react to economic changes and this may result in an increase of circular migration movements (Grabowska-Lusinska 2010, p. 150).

The Baltic States

However, such changes strongly depend on the economic situation in individual states, as the migration flows from and to the Baltic States exemplify. Here, a phase of initial emigration after 2004 was followed by a phase of strong return migration during times of economic recovery (Barcevičius et al. 2012, p. 9). However, in 2009, the GDP growth rate dropped dramatically for all three states, with Latvia showing the sharpest drop from 10.0% in 2007 to -18% in 2009 (World Bank 2012). The consequential growth of unemployment resulted in another phase of emigration.


Overall, these examples show that it is hard to generalize findings with regard to all new member states. Differences regarding economic development and geographic location as well as cultural proximity to certain Western European countries all influence the actual nature of inner-EU migration flows. While all states have been affected by their accession to the EU and resulting migration movements, the scale of migration differs between countries. The same can also be said regarding the impact of the economic recession.


As in many other cases, it needs to be highlighted in this context that the analysis of inner-EU migration is often hampered by limitations with regard to the quality and quantity of migration data available. See for example Fic et al. (2011) for a discussion. Also, the book by Fassmann et al. (2009) provides an overview of migration statistics and their issues in individual European states.
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