Migration and depopulation in twenty-first-century Europe
This debate is part of a day of debates organised by Birmingham Salon. For further information and tickets, visit the Birmingham Salon event page.
Since Poland joined the EU, around 3.5million Polish people have migrated to other EU countries. In Romania, as much as 20 per cent of its working age population now lives abroad. Around a million Bulgarians work elsewhere in the EU – out of a population of seven million. These huge migration flows are usually discussed in terms of their impact on richer EU countries like Britain or Germany, but today there is a growing discussion about its impact on the country of origin as well.
On the one hand, this immigration has kept down unemployment and provided an important source of income for relatives through remittances. But on the other hand, commentators increasingly speak of ‘ghost towns’, ageing populations, and brain-drain. With dwindling working-age populations, one often overlooked feature has been the need for greater immigration into countries like Poland. For example, over two million Ukrainians have migrated since Poland joined the EU.
Another factor is that internal migration coincides with the ‘Fortress Europe’ approach to migration from outside the EU. Countries like Croatia, that are in the EU but not in the Schengen free movement area, are tasked with keeping out non-EU migrants, while at the same time losing hundreds of thousands of its citizens who’ve emigrated to other countries. Likewise, in Italy it is now illegal to rescue migrants attempting to enter the country via the Mediterranean. But this attitude exists alongside appeals from villages with tiny populations for people to come and live there.
Some expect these migration flows to stabilise or even reverse because migrants will return to their home countries once they have made a good living abroad. Others suggest that European economies will continue to demand large immigration to balance low birth rates and meet the demand for low-skilled jobs.
How does free movement within the EU affect attitudes to migration and citizenship? Should countries actively seek to reduce migration or should they accept it as a fact of the modern, globalised world? If they accept it, should they encourage immigration from elsewhere, and how? If they don’t accept it, what is needed to hold on to those attracted by opportunities abroad? And who should have the final say over this, when migration is an issue connecting so many countries and populations?