29th May 2023

'Brain drain' threatens new member states

  • East to West migration may be higher than the Commission is expecting (Photo: EUobserver)

New member states face losing up to one in ten of their students as their brightest and best are expected to head west after enlargement.

According to a new survey jointly produced today by the European Commission and the European Foundation, "there may be a 'brain drain' of around two to three percent among graduates and students in the next five years".

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This is likely to have several consequences. Countries in the current EU 15 can expect an influx of skilled and well-educated workers which should, in theory, improve the socio-economic prospects in these countries.

The flipside is skilled workers from accession countries may come into the labour market of current EU members at a lower level, displacing lower-skilled workers from the EU 15 - so-called "social dumping".

From the accession countries' point of view, the loss of some of their most skilled workers will impact heavily on their growth potential. They also face a so-called "youth drain", because the profile of those most likely to migrate is young, well-educated and single.

Unemployed also heading West

The European Commission was at great pains today to stress that fears of large numbers of unemployed people heading to claim benefits or work in the current EU were "totally unjustified".

This has led all EU countries to either impose or consider impose some sort of restriction on workers from central and eastern Europe.

But in fact the fear may not be all that unfounded as the report says that two percent of unemployed people have expressed a firm intention to migrate, roughly the same percentage as for students and graduates.

More migrants than you might think

The Commission also went out of its way today to emphasise that only around 1.1 million people over five years are expected to migrate from the ten accession countries to current EU states.

However the figures show the possible number to be over three times higher. The 1.1 million people (around 1 percent of the population) asserted by the Commission have a "firm" intention to migrate.

A European Foundation spokesman confirmed that 3.7 percent of the ten accession countries have a "general" intention to migrate, meaning that the maximum possible level of migration could be as high as four million.

If Bulgaria and Romania are added, the figure moves up to 4.5 percent - closer to five million.

Candidate countries intend to get out more

Romanians and Bulgarians were keener than others to move to "old Europe". Overall, over 10 percent of people from Bulgaria and Romania expressed some intention to migrate.

The survey also includes Turkey and shows that 8.3 percent of those polled intend to move to the current EU 15.

Poland and the Baltic states (Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) have 6.3 percent of intended migrants and Cypriots, Maltese and Slovenians seem most happy with their home countries since only 3.6 percent intend to come to the EU.

Caveat Migrator

However, there is still no certainty that the foreseen numbers will materialise.

The results are based on a poll carried out in 2002, before certain EU countries decided to place restrictions on workers migration trends often differ from "intentions".

"We don't have a crystal ball", Commission spokeswoman Antonia Mochan told the EUobserver.

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