Intra-EU labor mobility doubles in two decades, with northern member states preferred destinations

| Press release

Freedom of movement of workers in the EU has doubled since the beginning of the century and is largely beneficial from east to west, but south to north emigration could be detrimental to sending countries.

These are the findings of economists Cinzia Alcidi and Daniel Gros (CEPS, Brussels), who examined the factors driving growth in intra-EU labor mobility in an opinion article for EconPol.

Just under 4% of EU citizens of working age (20-64) now reside in a member state which is not that of their citizenship, ranging from 1.0% of German nationals living and working abroad, to 20% of Romanian nationals.

And, say the authors, while this mobility is beneficial for receiving states and contributes to a well-functioning monetary union, it can have negative effects for the sending countries, resulting in ‘brain drain’ and an erosion of public finances.


Percentage of nationals living abroad, by country
(figure 1):

Romania 19.7
Lithuania 14.8
Croatia 13.9
Portugal 13.8
Estonia 12.6

Germany 1   
UK 1.1
France & Sweden 1.3
Finland & Czech Republic 1.8


In the article, the authors explain how two factors have driven the growth: the two waves of EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007 resulting in large flows from new member states in Central and Eastern Europe, and more recent smaller flows from south to north.

The United Kingdom and Ireland attracted disproportionally large inflows in the initial phase, which the authors say may have contributed to the outcome of the 2016 Brexit referendum. More recently, Germany and other northern member states have become the main destination countries for migrants from central and eastern EU countries.

The flows have been driven by a combination of better working conditions and higher salaries in the industrial core of Europe, say authors. However, rapid economic growth has seen a narrowing of wage differences and most recent data suggests that the net outflows from countries including the Baltics and Poland is stopping.


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