EU migration governance has so far neglected emigration, focusing solely on immigration management. Accession of 2004 and 2007 of predominantly emigration countries acerbated EU emigration dilemma, but did not change the overall EU policy course. On the contrary, countries like Poland started paying even less attention to their emigrants (c.a. 4% of the population) and focused instead on its immigrants (less than 0,2%). Prioritizing immigration policies targeting scarce migration population has been the palpable effect of Europeanization (Weinar 2006). However, also EU-15 has not been emigration-free: apart formthe high numbers of internal EU migrants, the UK, Germany and France are the top European countries of origin in the US, Australia and Canada. The Member States do not seem to be very concerned either. Indeed, the outward mobility has always been a part and parcel of the European identity, so limited flows are not perceived as a worrisome sign of a doom, especially when migration is constrained to the EU internal market. As one of the EU officials put it: “If EU nationals are mobile within the EU, we are OK. Their skills will be put to use in Europe for European employers and their taxes will find a way to their countries of origin as cheaply transferred remittances or through EU funds that flow from the richer to the poorer. It is when they leave the EU we run a risk of a loss.”
Indeed, the EU nationals who chose to leave the EU altogether are now less numerous than 20 years ago. The decision to go outside of the comfort zone of low-cost/low-risk intra-European mobility is usually made by people who have high human capital or who do it to develop a stage in their career. Also, the characteristic of the outflows are very different now: it is all about heterogeneity and mobility rather than homogenous migration for settlement.
Who are the EU migrants?
The first category are nationals of the Member States without the immigrant background. For them the statistics show high return rate (especially for the UK, France and Denmark) and more propensity to circulate or being mobile. Settlement/long-term migration outside of the EU is less popular among this group. This is the group that comes immediately to one’s mind when speaking about emigration from the EU. But in fact, it is not the main source of outflows.
The second category are EU nationals of immigrant background. The phenomenon of emigration of EU nationals of immigrant origin both to the ancestral countries and to other OECD countries (e.g. highly-skilled French-Algerians to Canada) has not been studied in-depth yet. However this particular group seems to be a very interesting case to understand the interplay between EU emigration and immigration policies. The perceived failure of integration policies in the EU seem to be an important driver of this emigration (see e.g. Balci and Michielsen 2013 on Turkish-Belgian youth migration to Turkey).
The third group of emigrants are non-EU nationals. They constitute a very high percentage among emigrants from EU-15: In case of Austria it is around 70% of the outflow; Denmark, Germany – 80%; Spain, France, and the Netherlands – ca. 65%. It is difficult to assess how many of them are actually temporary migrants, whose residence permit expired and how many are long-term residents, who just decided to leave.
The fourth group are EU nationals of national minorities. This is a very special case of emigrants originating mainly from the EU-13 who are member of minorities emigrating for better economic opportunities to their ancestral homes e.g. Bulgarian Turks and Greek Turkish minority choosing emigration to Turkey, but also Russian-speaking minority in Latvia emigrating to Russia.
The studies of emigration flows from the EU rarely distinguish between these four categories. Actually, in the common perception the concept of an EU emigrant seems to be limited to the first category.
What are the migration modes?
Europe has always been a continent of emigration, but 21st century has brought about a prevailing model of temporary mobility, also outside of the EU. For example, vast majority of the EU Member States has now bilateral agreements with Australia, Canada and the US for youth mobility (e.g. International Experience Canada), in which tens of thousands of young Europeans participate every year. This mobility can be transformed into a more permanent status, but it is not always the case.
Emigration policy 2.0?
The majority of the EU Member States policies towards their emigrants and diaspora are still geared towards catering for the needs of a settlement diaspora of the 20th century. However, the high mobility of EU nationals and the associated risks to human capital (skill waste, career gap etc.) force the hand of at least some Member States to switch to the next level. The absolute frontrunner has been France, with innovative and courageous policies supporting the French population on the move (regardless of its background), from giving information to practical solutions for skills recognition. Also, the increased presence of European businesses in new markets and the dynamic developments in international trade agreements (as the CETA or TTP) will increasingly involve with EU mobile citizens outside of the EU. The big question for the future is: how will the EU respond to the needs of such a diverse and fluid population?