Freedom of Movement: Perspectives on EU Migration

The third New Europeans Oxford meetup focused on EU migration and its effect on the current political and social landscape. The free movement of people is one of the fundamental principles of the EU — and increasingly the most controversial. From the refugees arriving through the Aegean, to the referendum that could carve a new EU border at the Channel, migration is reframing the continent’s social and political landscape.

Thursday, 25 February 2016, German Community Hall, Oxford

Our speakers were research associate Laura Wiesböck from the University of Vienna, and Associate Professor of Political Economy Dr Martin Ruhs from the University of Oxford.

Left: Dr Martin Ruhs, right: Laura Wiesböck

The meeting was chaired by Dr Rebecca Ehata of the Department of Social Policy & Intervention, University of Oxford.

After a quick welcome by New Europeans Oxford co-ordinator Ulla Weinberg, Rebecca Ehata introduced the speakers and gave some valuable background definitions for the often confusing terminology used in the migration debate.

Rebecca Ehata’s slides on the Terminology of Migration in the EU.

The Social Perspective

Laura Wiesböck, described the ideal migration scenario as a “triple-win” — the receiving countries solve their labour shortages, the sending countries benefit from less pressure on their labour markets, and the mobile citizens are in work and receive higher wages. But according to populist rhetoric, there is no way mobile workers can get it right. If they work, they take away jobs. If they don’t work, they exploit the welfare system. And if they establish businesses, they demonstrate their will to take over the country.

Laura gave some interesting insights into the effects of migration on the sending countries; including the “care chain” of Eastern European countries turning to neighbouring countries to replace shortages in care workers who have gone West; and into the effects of long term migration on families left behind.

300,000 children in Romania are growing up without their parents. New terms have been coined, such as the “Euro generation” which is being raised their relatives, and “Skype parents”.

Overall, the discourse on migration has become noticeably more hostile over the last few years in most EU countries. Migrants are blamed everywhere for social problems, and fears are intensified by recession and high unemployment.

Laura Wiesböck’s slides on Inner-European Labour Mobility — Perspectives and Challenges.

The Migration Debate in the UK

According to Martin Ruhs, the issue of migration could well be the determining factor for the EU referendum in June. To show transparency, the UK government publishes quarterly migration statistics–the result is a huge debate about migration fueled by the media every three months. This debate tends to focus on topics that are hard to measure and highly subjective, such as pace of change, social effects and whether immigration is out of control. Martin’s talk addressed some of the more fact based evidence relating to UK migration. Examples included the measurable increase in net migration, especially since 2004; impacts of migration on net wages — which economists largely regard as insignificant; and the fiscal benefits (tax minus benefits) of immigration due to higher than average employment rates.

Only 56% of UK citizens feel they are a “citizen of the EU”. Technically, 100% are, of course.

Due to freedom of movement, the government cannot restrict the number of EU citizens arriving. So the focus has been on restricting access to benefits. There is no credible research that suggests that people come to the UK for benefits, so this measure may not have any effect on net migration. But it may have an impact on public opinion as the British public may perceive it as fairer if migrants have to ‘earn their rights’ first.

Martin Ruhs’ slides on Free Movement: Economics and Politics.

The presentations were followed by a lively discussion touching on different aspects of the migration debate; and the event finished with drinks sponsored by digital agency GrowCreate.

Watch the event again on YouTube.

The New Europeans Oxford are co-ordinated by Ulla Weinberg, Theo Paraskevopoulos and Alexander Koelbl.

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