Responsible Employer

An increasingly mobile Europe

Structure and pathways of people’s movements in the European Union

The foundation stones of the European Union are the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons.

Indeed, smart and independent movement between Member States are a reflection of the single market, integration, cross-cutting cooperation and shared cultural horizons. These have been the goals of the European Union since it was first established through the Treaty of Rome in 1957, which abolished customs barriers, right up to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, which paved the way for European citizenship and the free movement of citizens.

It is precisely through the free movement of persons that Europeans have gone beyond traditional national borders and gained the right to travel, live, work and invest in all Member States. Consequently, mobility between European countries has reached unprecedented levels.

There is a myriad of (complex) dynamics as regards mobility between states, yet the foremost is certainly migration between European nations. The other great dynamic of migration between European states concerns migrants moving from or to non-European countries, i.e. with a starting or finishing point outside the boundaries of free movement. The recent People On The Move report, published by Eurostat, seeks to provide a statistical snapshot of mobility in Europe today, by taking a range of factors into account.

There were 512 million inhabitants of the European Union in 2018. Of these, 7.8% had a nationality different from that of their country of residence, with 4.4% of inhabitants coming from non-EU countries and 3.4% from European countries. Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Cyprus were the countries with the highest percentages of citizens from EU countries, while Estonia and Latvia had significant number of non-EU citizens.

According to the figures obtained by Eurostat, over three quarters of citizens from non-EU countries are of working age (between 15 and 64), representing the majority of those found in Poland and Romania (both 88%) and Ireland (87%). Citizens of European countries who live in different states than their country of origin are also mostly of working age (15-64). The leader board here is made up of the Czech Republic (86%), Estonia and Romania (both 85%).

The percentage trends of migrants (understood as anyone moving from one country to another) within the EU have been far from stable, partly because of the migration crises which have affected the Mediterranean area, resulting from conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. The highest number of migrants was recorded in 2015, with a peak of 4.7 million.

The latest data collected by Eurostat refer to 2017, when 46% of migrants came from non-EU countries, 30% were EU citizens and 23% were returning to their country of origin. Of the Member States, the highest proportions of immigrants with non-EU nationality in 2017 (of the total migrants in the individual country) were recorded in Italy (70% of migrants), Slovenia (65%) and Sweden (62%). Figures on the number of residence permits granted within the EU to citizens from third countries rose continuously between 2008 and 2017 (from 2.3 million in 2014 to 3.1 million in 2017).

In particular, studying has always been a major stimulus for the mobility for European citizens.

One need only consider the Erasmus programme, established in 1987 and developed ever since in various guises (the latest of which is entitled Erasmus+). In 2017, some 192,000 university students (114,000 on bachelor programmes and 78,000 on specialised courses) took advantage of European mobility to study in countries other than their state of origin. The main destination country for undergraduates was Spain (21,300 graduates or 19% of all Erasmus graduates within the EU in 2017), followed by Germany (18,400 or 16%), the United Kingdom (12,400, 11%), Italy (11,500, 10%) and the Netherlands (10,900, 10%). For students on specialised courses, the most popular countries were France (20,500, 26% of the total), Italy (15,000, 19%) and Germany (14,600, 19%). The percentage of students studying abroad also differs markedly from country to country.

This heterogeneity is also reflected in the world of work. In 2018, 8.3% of EU employees were foreign citizens. If we consider the portion of foreign citizens with respect to overall employment, 4.1% came from Member States, while 4.2% were from non-EU countries.

In the services sector, these figures were 4.0% for citizens of other Member States and 4.3% for non-EU citizens; while they were 4.5% and 3.9%, respectively, in the industrial sector and 2.5% and 3.4% in the agricultural sector. Among the Member States, the highest proportion of total employment composed of citizens from other EU states was recorded in Luxembourg (49.4%), Ireland (12.8%) and Cyprus (11.4%), while for non-EU citizens, the highest percentages were registered in Estonia (13.1%), Malta (9.4%) and Cyprus (7.6%).

Employment levels also vary considerably depending on the type of citizens taken into consideration. The employment level for workers with the same nationality as the state in which they live was 74% in 2018, compared with 77% for workers from another Member State and only 59% for workers from non-EU countries.

Mobility may be considered not only as movement from one state to another, but also from one region to another. In 2018, 18.3 million employees (approximately 0.3% of the total) commuted between different regions, with the greatest commuter flows recorded in the areas around London and in Belgium.

One final category we may wish to consider is mobility for purely leisure reasons. In 2018, around 64% of the total population of the EU made at least one private trip to another country for leisure purposes. Of the countries with the highest percentage of the population making leisure trips, Norway was ranked first (91% of the population), followed by Finland (91%) and the Netherlands (85%), while the lowest-ranked countries were Romania (27%), Bulgaria (33%) and Greece (42%).

The figures thus show an increasingly mobile, but two-speed, Europe, as regards both work and study, with certain countries (above all in Northern Europe) leading the way and another bracket of countries which are still struggling to keep up with the rhythm of European integration. Nevertheless, European trends remain positive, thanks to the legislative apparatus and initiatives taken by the European Parliament to enhance the federal nature of the EU on several levels, ensuring standards which can be promoted in every Member State. This integration is multi-faceted, from shared defence initiatives (development of the European Defence Fund (EDF)) to the decision to forbid the use of single-use plastic in all EU countries, not to forget the abolition of additional charges for using mobiles and online services within the EU.