Old Europe Fears Immigrant Influx from Eastern Europe

As countries further east joined the European Union, it was clear that many people would move to take advantage of higher wages.  A new wave is expected when transitional restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians expire at the end of the year.

According to the Daily Mail, British Communities Secretary Eric Pickles warned of housing “problems” from what could be a significant influx.  By one estimate, the number could nearly treble.  But the government has gotten it badly wrong before.  Reported the Mirror:  “The last Labor government estimated just 20,000 Polish and other Eastern European immigrants would come to Britain after restrictions were lifted in 2004—but 669,000 ended up arriving.”  All told, eight Central and Eastern European states, including the Baltics, joined the EU that year, causing the number of immigrants from that group to rise from 94,000 to 1,079,000.

London apparently hopes to discourage more immigrants next year by running negative ads.  However, the Mirror observed that “a botched government bid to deter thousands of Eastern Europeans from moving to Britain could actually encourage MORE to come.”  The problem is London would actually be informing residents of Eastern Europe that they now have freedom of movement, which could trigger an even bigger rush to Britain.

Fear of immigrants from the east afflicts other western European nations as well.  However, they would do better creating the sort of open economies most likely to encourage increased growth throughout the region.  More vibrant economies would be far more likely than negative ads to keep Bulgarians and Romanians at home.

Even more so when it comes to EU wannabes such as Ukraine.  Rather than reacting out of fear, attempting to reduce natural economic links, the wealthier EU states should encourage poorer nations to the east to more fully participate in the economic mainstream.  Immigration is an important tool during the early days of development.  In time, if these nations achieve their potential, that migration is likely to reverse direction.

Economic troubles bring out the worst in nations.  Including protectionist instincts.  But more open economic practices, including for labor, would benefit countries in Europe from east to west.