Block Benefits, Not Immigrants

As EU enlargement approaches, people across Western Europe fear a flood of job-seeking immigrants from the postcommunist accession countries. Indeed, if all eight of the top East European candidates (excluding Bulgaria and Romania) join by the target date of 2004, the EU population's will soar by about 75 million people.

When Spain and Portugal joined the EU two decades ago, emigration to existing member states was lessened by the fact that many immigrants had arrived from these countries during Europe's go-go 1960s. But migration from Eastern Europe in those years was blocked by the Iron Curtain. Now the income gap between eastern applicants and the EU is three times as large as the disparity with the Iberian peninsula was. Munich's Ifo Institute expects about 2.5--3.3 million migrants to Western Europe during the 15 years following EU enlargement.

These are big numbers, but there is little or no reason for fear-not if today's EU members prepare. Unlike immigration from non-European countries, East European immigrants share a similar cultural background and will assimilate easily.

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