Labour Migration in Europe


Labour Migration in Europe Menz Georg, Alexander Caviedes ( eds .) Basinstoke : Palgrave Macmillan ( 2010 ), 264 p ., ISBN: 978-0-230-27482-2

That labour migrants are needed but not liked is hardly news. Scholars have long investigated the issue and have explained the “need” in economic terms, while the limitations on immigration have been explained in terms of public opinion influence or influence of radical parties on policy making. As influential and as insightful as they are, these approaches remain essentially separated.

The contributors to this volume try to cover this gap and investigate from a political economy perspective the dynamics leading to policies which simultaneously accept and reject or limit labour migration. The entry point into the topic is on the side of economics. As European states face increased competition on the global markets (Cerny 1997), labour migration is rediscovered as a means to achieve flexibility and competitiveness. However, since not all economic sectors are top competitive sectors, and since immigrants are mostly unwelcome by resident populations, labour migration needs to be carefully constructed. The complex of measures that bring in the immigrants needed for economic reasons while keeping out the unwelcome ones is presented as “managed migration”.

The publication of this volume is extremely timely. Managed migration is embraced not only by countries with long histories of immigration, but also by countries for which immigration is a recent problem (such as Southern European countries), and also by countries for which immigration is a potential issue (such as Eastern European countries). In addition, politicians often present managed migration to the public at large as an appropriate solution, because it can be fashioned in such a way as to bring in only immigrants who produce goods while tightening the controls on the entry of those perceived as welfare consumers. Thus, in this context, an investigation of what managed migration entails is of utmost importance.

The contributors to the volume are scholars with long-standing interest and research experience in the area of migration studies. They cover fields as varied as IR, law, sociology, political science, political economy, and geography. This is a fortunate diversity, which makes the quest for an answer to the puzzle that explores the interdependencies and the tensions within “managed migration” all the more worthwhile.

The volume originates from the conviction that “existing scholarship does not satisfactorily address the phenomenon of economic migration to Europe in all its depth and width.” (p.3) According to the editors, this is due to the fact that scholars either take a state-centric view, or do not take fully in consideration that different political economy approaches have a differentiated impact on policy output. In this context, the volume brings back into the spotlight political economy as a way of analyzing labour migration. It does so by focusing on aspects which are relatively absent from mainstream research, but which nevertheless play a major role in shaping migratory movements and migration policies: macro-economic changes, micro-economic corporate strategies of labour recruitment, international trade agreements, stakeholders and their capabilities.

In addition to the introduction, the volume consists of nine substantive chapters structured under four themes. The first theme builds on the idea that the differences between countries in terms of economic structure and the supportive institutional framework determine the interests of economic actors (government, employers, unions), their policy preferences and ultimately their strategies vis-à-vis labour migration. The theme is explored in four chapters which show that the preferences of employers and the needs of various sectors are the main drivers behind the fine tuning of migration policies (Menz, Caviedes). Kolb uses a framework developed from Hirschman’s famous argument about loyalty to explain why policy-makers have an interest in tuning immigration policies in such a way as to attract those immigrants who contribute most and do not over-consume from the bundle of collective goods. Krings argues that trade unions do not indiscriminately oppose labour immigration. His study shows that unions accept labour migration and are supportive of managed migration, but they insist that labour immigrants should enjoy the same rights as the native workers in order to prevent the potential dampening effects of immigration on wages.

The second theme derives from the observation that European project has started as an economic project and that, consequently, labour migration is an inherent part of it. The chapters subsumed to this theme explore the continuous tension between older member states, new member states (NMS) and non-EU states. This tension is partly solved by labeling labour migrants from NMS as “mobile workers” and incrementally endowing them with access to Western labor markets, while simultaneously tightening the access of third country nationals. However, the tension remains, as Hatzopoulos shows, because the logic of free circulation of services (another essential component of European project, which, unlike others, has been implemented without restrictions) cuts across the logic of transitory measures taken by some European states to protect their labour markets.

The third theme brings forward the issue of management of migration flows. In a context in which the states try to cope with need to restructure their costs, outsourcing the management of migration flows sounds like a feasible option. Menz’s discussion shows that this process raises questions about the implications of devolving state functions towards private actors, an issue all the more critical since these are core functions of sovereign states: control of borders, control over individuals, and ultimately the exercise of violence.

The last theme brings into the spotlight the dark side of labour migration: the illegal labour migration. Samers’ chapter examines Italy and France and shows that states respond to undocumented migration and undeclared labour by increasing controls, but at the same time face pressures in the opposite direction not only from humanitarian groups, but also from their own limitation in controlling both the immigrants and the natives who employ them. Maas looks at how Spain has dealt with undocumented migrants and concludes that the extensive use of regularizations is a quick response given the needs of economy and the humanitarian pressures, but more importantly, it is the consequence of a lack of administrative capacity to deal with this issue.

Summing up, the book explores the recent trend in migration policies, the managed migration approach, from the perspective of its underlying tensions. The authors explore tensions between sectors of economy and categories of actors with stakes in labour migration; tensions between the logic of immigration policies and the logic of European integration; tensions between the need for administrative efficiency and cost reduction through privatization of control functions; and tensions between the need to control illegal migration and the limitations on states’ capacity of doing so. The volume moves beyond classical approaches to labour migration and opens new possibilities of exploration. The volume is a must for all scholars of migration. It answers many questions and it poses new ones. And this adds to its value, because it shows that political economy of labour migration is a field whose depth and width we just begin to grasp.