Europeans on the Move—to Germany

By Steven Hill, IP Journal (Berlin), August 21, 2012

What Europe should take from its latest migration trends.

Recent statistics are showing that workers from crisis-stricken countries on Europe’s periphery are making their way in greater numbers to more stable Germany. But the increasing labor migration doesn’t necessarily need to be cause for alarm.

Recent figures from the German Federal Employment Agency reveal that the number of Greeks working in Germany increased by 9.8 percent in one year, and the number of Spaniards by 11.5 percent. Portuguese and Italian workers also made a beeline for Germany. Overall, these four countries sent over 450,000 workers, a 6.5 percent increase, to Germany over the past year.

The internal migration trend of European workers has inspired a considerable amount of debate and anxious handwringing. I recall a recent conversation with a German friend who was lamenting about all the young Germans who are moving out of Germany. So I asked her, “Where are they moving to?” When she said Austria and Switzerland, I couldn’t help but laugh. That’s like someone from California complaining that their young Californians are moving to the states of Oregon or Washington.

In the United States—which has for the most part constructed a successful economic, monetary and political union over the past two centuries—one would never hear someone say that a young Californian who picked up and moved to New York or Texas or Florida to get a job was somehow a failure of California, or even California’s loss. Mostly because, over time, other young people from New York or Texas are going to move to California or Florida or elsewhere in the US. That’s the type of natural ebb and flow of transmigration one should expect.

In fact, one of the criticisms of the European system has been that while capital, i.e. finance, corporations and banks, have become global companies and in that sense hyper “migratory,” workers remain stuck in place, rooted in the home soil (primarily due to reasons of language and culture, as well as the logistical challenges to relocation). This gives banks and corporations leverage over workers. So should we now lament an increase in labor migration?

I don’t think so. In fact, I actually view the emigration of Spaniards, Italians and Greeks as a positive, and something that Europe needs to get used to. Sure, to the extent that it represents a brain drain from these states, that is a downside. But Spain, Greece and Italy need to do more to attract businesses from other parts of Europe to relocate there, and with it will come those businesses’ skills and expertise. If Europe is to have a dynamic continental economy, it really can’t work any other way, can it?

And keep in mind, this is not the first time Europe has seen waves of mass emigration. In the 1960s, entire families from poorer, rural Spain left for the factories of northern Europe. In 1965, 80,000 people emigrated and in 1969, 100,000 emigrated, mostly to Europe.

This is part of the “new normal,” and how a European “Union” is supposed to work.

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