Barbarians or Geniuses at the Gate?

Europe is currently experiencing a huge movement of people between its east and west, on a scale reminiscent of the Great Migrations of the fourth to sixth centuries. And, while many target countries have tried to limit immigration to skilled workers, their success in attracting them has varied widely--and in revealing ways.

MUNICH – Europe is currently experiencing a huge wave of migration between its east and west. This movement resembles the Great Migrations (Völkerwanderung) that marked Europe between the fourth to sixth centuries.

Within the first year of Romania’s accession to the EU on January 1, 2007, for example, roughly a million Romanians migrated to Italy and Spain. More than 800,000 East Europeans have become workers in the United Kingdom over the past four years, most coming from Poland. Indeed, in the last two years alone, 1.5 million Poles emigrated, and overall probably more than two million have done so since Poland’s EU accession in 2004. On a smaller scale, the migration of Ukrainians to the Czech Republic, Bulgarians to Turkey, and British citizens to Spain is also noteworthy.

Because Germany still restricts the immigration of dependent workers from eastern EU countries, most of its immigrants come as self-employed or economically inactive people. In Munich, the number of self-employed tilers increased in 2004 and 2005, the first two years after the first eastern enlargement wave, from 119 to 970. But despite restrictions, by 2005 Germany had absorbed 37% of all migrants from Eastern Europe that came before and after eastern EU enlargement, whereas Italy had absorbed 22%, Greece 11%, Switzerland 8%, and the UK only 3%. In the same year, 13% of the population living in Germany was foreign born, more than in Britain (10%), France (7%), Spain (5%), or Italy (3%).

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