Intra-EU Labour mobility. Pros and Cons

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2018

9 Pages




Labour mobility in the EU

Cons of intra-EU labour mobility

Pros of the intra-EU labour mobility


Proposals for the future and conclusion



Intra-EU migration is one of the four fundamental freedoms of the EU, together with free movement of goods, services and capital, introduced with the Rome Treaties in 1957. The first part of this paper is dedicated to elucidate labour mobility and its characteristic, the central discussion and aim is to analyse the pro and contra of labour mobility within the European Union (EU), and in the concluding part, I will mention some proposals made by scholars, which could support positive changes in the field of intra-EU mobility.

Labour mobility in the EU

Although the literature about labour mobility is quite exhaustive, the main problem are the resources.

Analysing intra-EU migration at macro level is quite different, there is a lack of data and transnational surveys. (Zimmermann, 2009: 11)

Although a detailed analysis is not provided, scholars try to comprehend more about the phenomena. This topic has a strong meaning in our lives, at several levels.

The author Baldwin explains that migration has a political and economic meaning within the EU. From a political perspective citizens of EU enjoy mobility and this affects the image European citizens have about their neighbours; from an economical point of view, which is the focus of this paper, mobility of labours allows worker to best use their skills and experiences, and firms can enjoy from competent workers. (Baldwin, 2015: 201) Baldwin`s analysis begins by defining the difference between goods and national labour markets, which have their own regulation. According to Baldwin the reason for this is that Member States (MS) have limited migration within the EU and there are important differences among the MS, different legislations and different practices. (Baldwin, 2015: 186) Within the EU we find countries more privileged than others. (Trenz and Triandafyllidou, 2016: 556)

What makes individuals take the decision to move? Zimmermann analyses the main push-factors, which make EU citizens move to other MS, these factors are: job, education, family and others. At the same time, the author suggests that future factors could be: work and income, social network, housing and local environment. (Zimmermann, 2009: 13)

Before proceeding with a more detailed analysis, I first want here to mention the main characteristics (main routes and effects of EU enlargement) on labour mobility within the EU. Intra-EU migration has different routes apart from the typical one, South to the North and from Eat to the West, the most peculiar one are for examples, pensioners moving from North to the South, or students who take the chance to study abroad, and especially low- or high-skilled migrants moving all across EU. (Trenz and Triandafyllidou, 2016: 546) With the East and Baltic enlargement of the EU it was expected to have a high level of migration, but this was in reality very small, typical routes are, Romanians and Bulgarians to Italy and Spain, and Polish citizens, Latvians and Lithuanians moved to UK and Ireland, while Estonians more to Finland. (Trings, 2012)

Within this analysis it is very important to keep in mind that the situation concerning social aspects among MS is quite different, especially when it comes to unemployment rate. (Baldwin, 2015: 189) Scholars agree that EU is performing worse than USA, since the employment rate is lower. The percentage of unemployment is high in EU for following reasons: some individuals are disabled to work; cannot find a job; are not interested in working. (Baldwin, 2015: 187)

Cons of intra-EU labour mobility

Scholars agree that there is no sign of a “European labour market”, without harmonisation, it is understandable that the negative aspects can prevail. In fact, some scholars argue that labour mobility in the EU may have disintegrating effects, since the divergence among MS will be felt much more, multiculturalism is not always argued to be good. (Trenz and Triandafyllidou, 2016: 549)

Social dumping[1]can be considered a negative effect of intra EU labour migration; the older MS were having the feeling that with the new enlargement, the competition arising from the new MS could represent a threat to their established social protection system. (Baldwin, 2015: 197) One economical reason, why MS choose to keep social policies under their own competence, and not European, is that the division between wage and non-wage costs has little effect on external competitiveness. (Bladwin, 2015:197)

Concerning regulations, Baldwin explains that in case of rigidities in the labour market, unemployment is not likely to be affected by trade integration on the contrary, inequalities and unemployment are likely to rise. (Baldwind, 2015: 196)

Another problem, which may concern less the economic field, is integration. In this topic, we find different logics and dynamics, but it is clear that the majority of the multicultural approaches failed. (Boswell and Geddes, 2011: 222) Public opinion can represent a clear problem, it has very often contorted views on migration and it is easy to influence. It is common that people see immigrants as the cause for high unemployment, threat to social welfare, criminality and degradations, this is why far right parties are very strong in some European countries. (Baldwind, 2015: 204)

Pros of the intra-EU labour mobility

Free movement of workers is a fundamental element of the European free trade area. From a pure economic point of view, the positive effects can be several, and according to many scholars, these can exceed the negative aspects.

The strong liberal and market-oriented view on intra-EU labour mobility may have a very positive impact.

“The mobility of labour between EU countries is seen as a means of matching labour supply to demand, ironing out inefficiencies in national markets and reducing unemployment”, (Boswell and Geddes, 2011: 182) and this is the reason why, according to the authors, that many economist supported the extension of free mobility even to eastern countries.

Baldwin has a positive view as well, economic and labour market integration promote a flexible labour market and migration, and from an economic point of view is considered a good instrument to allocate resources efficiently and in the best places. (Baldwin, 2015: 187)

Generally, many reports prove the economic gain from more freedom of movement, increased productivity and growth, fiscal gains. (Boswell and Geddes, 2011: 182) In order to understand better what kind of effect the trade integration has on the labour market, we have known that the 50% of the production costs are devolved to labours, consequently, competition has repercussions on labour market.

By having usually very different skills from the home worker, the migrant is an important resource, in fact unskilled workers result to be complement to the skilled ones and to capital, in this view unskilled migrants do not represent a threat for the skilled home workers. (Baldwin, 2015: 206) Following the same logic, a country can be in need of workers specialized in one field, but this particular specialization is missing, so they are in need of skilled foreign migrants. Here the conclusion is that in none of the case, migrants are a threat, on the contrary, they represents a resource, which enables countries to improve their productivity.

Although according to Baldwin, there are so far, no empirical researches giving clear evidence of it, but he still argues that labour mobility does improve employment in the home country and that it does not increase unemployment. (Bladwin, 2015: 207)

A very positive effect labour mobility can have in periods of crisis, is to promote recovery, thanks to young workers being able to move to MS. (Trenz and Triandafyllidou, 2016: 547)

The role of institutions involved in labour market and economic integration is significant and it could gain importance, should rigidities be the cause for unemployment it is likely that institutions push for reforms; on the other side, labour market institutions influence economic integration. (Baldwin, 2015: 197) The relation between institutions and labour market represents a reciprocal influence.

A last element I want to mention is the demographic change in Europe, which is quite drastic. The question of how to guarantee pensions to the older generations represents a sensible debate, scholars agree that EU MS showing these problems are strongly in need of migrants. (Zimmermann, 2009: 3)


Some obstacle to intra-EU labour mobility can be very explicit, while other implicit. An example of explicit barrier is the limitations of migration for the new MS (with exceptions for Malta and Cyprus). The idea behind was that with the enlargement those people would have immediately moved to the richest MS, but in reality this was not the case, we can see it at hand of Ireland, UK and Sweden, which opened their borders without any kind of restriction, they did not have a much increased number of migrants coming from the new MS. (Baldwin, 2015: 209)

Examples of implicit barriers, can be the pensions, which are calculated in different ways according to the country where an individual has been working, and other social protections systems, like unemployment benefits, which will get lost in after three months you moved to a another MS. (Baldwin, 2015: 210)

Baldwin concludes that although free movement of people has been established, the above-mentioned factors, together with different languages and customs do not allow a perfect implementation of this freedom. (Baldwin, 2015: 210)

The newest challenge is what is going to happen with Brexti, according to Trenz and Triandafyllidou, the group at mostly at risk will be the low-skilled workers, but until now, it is diffucult to say what will happen.

Proposals for the future and conclusion

As we have seen labour mobility within the EU is quite low and there is need to increase it, since the majority of the scholars here analysed agree that the positive effects on economy can be vast majoritarian.

I here want to mention some interesting proposals. Zimmermann claims that there is more need to coordinate work agencies in EU, to create one interconnected platform in order to stimulate mobility, or even compulsory studies abroad; secondly it is fundamental to control migration, in order to reduce negative effects of restricted mobility (the logic behind is that restricted mobility increase the possibility of irregular migration). (Zimmermann, 2009: 15)

Another interesting change could be to harmonise the employment policies, but the problem is that MS do not seem ready to agree on this topic. Jackmann suggests that the two main elements that could lead to achieve this goal (but do not exist today) are: shared aims and spillovers that make an European harmonized policy more effective than a national one. (Jackmann, 2001: 232)

Similarly to Jackmann, the authors Dittrich and Brinke propose three strategies, first the work conditions are too severe now, they have to become more flexible; secondly expand the EURES[2]network in order to move towards an European labour market; and third, to adapt policies, one example could be to introduce European cyclical adjustment mechanism in charge of mitigating asymmetric shocks. (Auf dem Brinke and Dittrich, 2016)

Scholars agree that a complete harmonisation in employment, welfare and mobility policies is not close to become reality, this is the reason why the authors Barslund and Busse suggest that for now it is fundamental that “fair mobility” is guaranteed. This concept involves benefits for all actors concerned in the mobility, EU citizens, MS, companies and social partners. (Barslund and Busse, 2016)

In conclusion, we can see that economic pro of intra-EU labour mobility can be very high, but the EU is not able to implement this element, due especially to preferences of the MS.


[1]This is the practice to hire workers of subcontracting firms from other MS only in order to carry out work for lower prices. (Boswell and Geddes, 2011: 182)

[2]European Employment Services is a cooperation network, its goal is to support free movement of workers within EEA countries, this includes EU countries, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein and Switzerland. (Eur-Lex)

Excerpt out of 9 pages


Intra-EU Labour mobility. Pros and Cons
University of Malta  (Institute for European Studies)
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ISBN (eBook)
intra-eu, labour, pros, cons
Quote paper
B.A. Integrated European Studies Amelia Martha Matera (Author), 2018, Intra-EU Labour mobility. Pros and Cons, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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