NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

European Union Toughens Stance on Immigration

April 22, 2004

With eight East European countries set to join the European Union (EU) on May 1, Old Europe has started to tighten up immigration policies over fears it will be overrun by foreign workers.

In 2003, the original EU expansion agreement restricted the right of new EU citizens in the east to work and live freely in the west for up to seven years. This clause was largely established through lobbying efforts of countries suffering high-unemployment -- such as Germany and Austria. Today, many Old European countries have sought to further curb inflows of the foreign-born:

  • The Netherlands has cut the number of new work permits to 22,000.
  • In Denmark, East European workers will now face a two-year waiting period for permits.
  • Sweden has announced its intention to refuse entry for workers from new EU members.
  • In France, anti-immigration sentiments have grown leading up to its regional elections at the end of March.

Ironically, the fears of a tidal wave of immigration are almost surely unfounded, say experts. An exhaustive European Commission study released in late February estimated that at most, 220,000 citizens from new member states will be relocating every year to Western Europe over the next half-decade -- hardly a major shift in a union of some 450 million people.

Furthermore, Europe can ill afford protectionist immigration policies. Over the past decade, Europe's economy has grown by an average annual rate of just 2.1 percent, partly due to its relatively low level of labor mobility. As a result, European economies have not been able to adapt to regional market shifts, a damaging inefficiency that erecting barriers against East European workers would only serve to reinforce.

Source: John Rossant "The EU: Choking Off its New Blood," Business Week, March 15, 2004.

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