Mobility is a great European value, and despite the significant shifts in population that have taken place since the EU was enlarged, countries should not be afraid of depopulation, Piotr Maciej Kaczy?ski, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), told EURACTIV.
"There is nothing bad in mobility. Mobility is a great European value. If you're Polish, Romanian, Bulgarian or Lithuanian and you leave your country to work in Spain, Italy, Germany or the UK, you're still Polish, Romanian, Bulgarian or Lithuanian, because you're an EU citizen," Kaczy?ski insisted.
Commenting on a recent Eurostat study which disclosed significant shifts among the EU population, Kaczy?ski said that there were two schools of thought regarding depopulation. One was to panic: "Oh my God, we're depopulating." But population shifts could also be seen as an investment, because many of the people concerned were expected to come back "with resources, with know-how, with contacts, with ideas".
The study shows that over two million Romanians and over 1.5 million Poles live abroad. But due to their smaller size, the most depopulated countries are Bulgaria and Lithuania. A recent census in Bulgaria showed that the country, which has now 7,351,633 inhabitants, has lost 1.5 million inhabitants since 1985: a depopulation record not just for the EU, but by global standards too.
Romania, Bulgaria and Lithuania might be depopulated, but Bulgarians, Romanians and Lithuanians still live in the EU, and they are benefiting from the European Union while staying in direct contact with their state of origin, Kaczy?ski added.
Romania: the new Spain?
Kaczy?ski saw similarities between recent massive immigration of Romanians and Poles and the population shifts of the seventies and eighties, which saw Spanish and Portuguese workers move to other 'old' member states in their droves.
According to the study, Romania and Poland are joined by Turkey and Morocco as the major countries of immigration to EU countries. One quarter of displaced foreigners in the EU are citizens of Turkey, Romania, Morocco or Poland, the study shows.
Ironically, Spain recently introduced restrictions for Romanian workers, despite the fact that the Iberian country had a long tradition of opening its labour market to foreign workers.
Asked if Eastern European EU newcomers were suffering from a brain drain, Kaczy?ski insisted that a distinction should be made between different categories of nationals who choose to live in another EU country.
"[The term 'brain drain' applies when there is brains. We cannot speak of a 'brain drain' of unqualified labour," he said.
But the analyst added that if countries saw that they were losing their doctors, scientists or IT specialists, then this was indeed a brain drain, and the governments concerned should see this "as an opportunity" to reform their countries in a way which could attract those people back.
Review of number of MEPs?
Asked if there was a chance of the EU reviewing each country's number of MEPs or quotas for qualified majority votes in EU decision-making, which are linked to population size, Kaczy?ski insisted that there was no real need to do that.
According to him, what matters is not the fact that a given citizen lives in another EU country, but his citizenship.
"If you are Bulgarian and you live in the UK, for the European elections you can vote for the British list, but you can still vote for the Bulgarian list. So there is no reason to redraw the number of MEPs," Kaczy?ski said.