EU enlargement opens way to migrants

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“The first round of enlargement (in May 2004) will cause the first wave, and the next round (expected in 2007) is likely to cause further migration swells,” said Tobias Just, a Deutsche Bank economist and a co-author of the study. He sees as many as 200,000 people a year leaving the CEE countries to look for better jobs and education in western Europe for the next 10-12 years. Afterwards, the net outflow should taper off to about 100,000 a year, he says. Altogether, the CEE region will be losing on average 75,500 people a year until 2050.

The Deutsche Bank economists are basing their predictions on current UN estimates of global migration flows and on persisting major gaps in living conditions between countries in the east and west of Europe. “From a pure economic point of view, a wage gap of more than 30 percent between the country of origin and the target country already creates a strong stimulus to migrate,” Just says. Adjusted for purchasing power parity, wages for low and high skill labour in most CEE countries are between 70 percent lower (Lithuania) and 15 percent lower (Slovenia) than comparable wages in western Europe. Gross monthly wages in the three major CEE countries – Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic – while rising fast, still remain at around 50 percent of the EU level. In Poland, a very high unemployment rate of around 20 percent provides an additional incentive to look for more stable labour market, says the economist.

While EU regulations will allow only a phased-in labour migration from the East, no such rules will block young people looking for better education and financing. This will mean a sharp hike in competition for EU educational assistance, once the first wave of CEE countries joins the EU, the economist warns. He sees it in a positive light, however. Current EU members, whose populations are aging and shrinking, will have to compete anyway for human resources in the near future. “A long-term, fierce ‘beauty contest’ for highly qualified staff is ahead,” he warns. At the same time, Just points out that labour migrants tend to go back once economic and social situation in countries of their origin shows marked improvement. “Spain has gone through this and now Turkey is undergoing the same process,” he says. “As Eastern European countries catch up, they would become again more attractive for the labour migrants to return.”