The European Commission on Factors Influencing Labor Migration


A controversial issue in discussions on enlargement of the European Union beyond its existing membership of 15 countries is the migration flows that admission of new members could generate. Given major differences in income and wage levels between the EU states and the candidates for membership, casual theorizing suggests that the potential for massive international migration is very high. The fact that such migration has thus far been of modest size by most plausible criteria is attributed to the restrictive policies of the potential destination countries, policies that reflect national interests, in particular protection of labor markets, as perceived by voting majorities. With accession to membership in the EU this factor is removed: a cardinal principle of the Union, established by treaty, is the free movement of persons, including persons seeking gainful employment. The factors governing migratory movements between member states then come to resemble those that shape internal migration. This should facilitate analysis and forecasting. A clear sorting-out of the relevant forces affecting such “internal” migration remains of course an essential precondition for success in that task. An “Information note,” entitled The Free Movement of Workers in the Context of Enlargement, issued by the European Commission, the EU's Executive Body, on 6 March 2001, presents extensive discussion of relevant information, opinion, and policy options concerning its topic. (The document is available at «».) An Annex to the document. Factors Influencing Labour Movement, is a lucid enumeration of the factors migration theory considers operative in determining the migration of workers and, by extension, of people at large, that is likely to ensue upon EU enlargement. This annex is reproduced below.

As is evident from the catalog of factors and their likely complex interactions, making quantitative forecasts of future migration flows, envisaged primarily as originating from countries to be newly admitted to the EU and destined for the countries of the current EU15, is exceedingly difficult. This is reflected in disparities among the existing studies that have made such forecasts. Yet there appears to be a fair degree of agreement that major increases in migration are unlikely, suggesting that the overall effect on the EU15 labor market should be limited. Typical forecasts (detailed in the Information note cited above) anticipate that in the initial year after admission, taken to be 2003, total migration from the eight prime candidate countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania: the “CC8”) might amount to around 200,000 persons, roughly one-third of which would be labor migration. According to these forecasts, the annual flow will gradually diminish in subsequent years. After 10 to 15 years the stock of CC8 migrants in the EU15 might be on the order of 1.8 to 2.7 million. The longer-run migration potential from the candidate countries would be on the order of 1 percent of the present EU population, currently some 375 million. (The combined current population of the CC8 is 74 million.) Such predictions are in line with the relatively minor migratory movements that followed earlier admissions to the EU of countries with then markedly lower per capita incomes, such as Spain and Portugal. The geographic impact of migration ensuing from enlargement would, however, be highly uneven, with Germany and Austria absorbing a disproportionately large share. Accordingly, and reflecting a prevailing expectation in these two countries that enlargement would have some short-run disruptive effects on labor markets, some of the policy options discussed envisage a period of transition following enlargement—perhaps five to seven years—during which migration would remain subject to agreed-upon restrictions.