Regulation of migration flows

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Regulation of migration flows

The OECD has just published its annual report on migration and Eurostat the final data for the year 2000 on the number of foreign nationals living in the EU15. This therefore is an occasion to remember the debates and estimates which led to the negotiation with the applicant countries of transition periods for the free movement of individuals, one of the 4 fundamental freedoms of the Union.

All the studies converge upon a potential migration into the EU15 of from 3 to 5 M individuals over a 30-year period, that is to say at most 1.3% of the Union’s population, but at the same time 4.6% of that of the 10 CEECs.

In order to consider potentials for migration, an initial series of studies develops macro-economic models based mainly on income and unemployment differentials. One of the most complete studies, carried out on behalf of the European Commission), concludes that the number of people coming from the CEEC could reach 4 M in 2030, including 2.5 M to Germany, 470,000 to Austria and around 100,000 to France.

The second type of study is based on opinion polls and intentions to emigrate expressed by people of working-age (15 to 65 years). They do not give exact details on the annual flows of potential emigrants, but instead provide information on their socio-economic characteristics: these people would be mainly male (62,4%), young (62,1% between 15 and 29 years) and better educated than their country’s national average.

Actual flows will probably not reach these levels, as is recalled by the OECD and various experts.

For at least two socio-economic reasons. Firstly, since the beginning of the 90’s there has been an extremely rapid fall in birthrate in all these countries, with fertility rates currently lower than 1.5. Secondly, economic catching-up, i.e. growth rates higher than those of the EU of 15, should stimulate employment. In the medium term, the future member states could even become countries which attract immigration, in particular from countries on the eastern fringes (Ukraine, Byelorussia, Russia, Turkey). This phenomenon is already starting to appear (from Ukraine to Poland or from Romania to Hungary).

Next, because these studies do not take into account the negotiated transition periods for the free movement of labour, which are included in the Accession Treaty and which the current Member States of the EU will be able to choose to implement or otherwise. This transition period is divided into 3. During the two years following accession, the EU Member States’ national measures will remain in force. But they cannot be made any stricter. The Commission will then prepare a specific report, but the 15 Member States will retain the ability to apply national measures for 3 more years. The transition period should in principle come to an end after these five years, but a further two years with restricted movement of workers would still be possible in the event of serious disturbances on the labour market.

Transitional periods, demographic changes and economic catching-up should make it possible to manage the East-West migrations without seriously disturbing labour markets, even if one cannot rule out the possibility of tension on the European Union’s borders with these countries.


For background information to this analysis (Revue Elargissement No. 40 – 3 March 2003), the relevant tables, or more analyses, see the

enlargement website of DREE.


Subscribe to our newsletters