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EU mobility strengthens European identity, FP5 project concludes

Brussels, 30 Mar 2006

Citizens that migrate from one EU country to another country tend to have a much more positive image of the European Union, and perceive themselves as being more knowledgeable about European institutions and policies than those who remain in their country of origin, according to new research.

The PIONEUR project, funded under the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), was set up to address the current gap in knowledge concerning internal EU migration. 'Intra EU migrants constitute a hidden population in two senses. First, they are not registered as 'foreigners' in any systematic way by host countries. Second, they are very difficult to reach for survey purposes by the standard means of door-stepping or random questionnaires,' explains the project's final report.

With nearly one million euro of EU funding, the PIONEUR consortium was established under the coordination of the University of Florence to carry out the first systematic study of intra EU migration. The partners identified a sample of 5,000 European citizens resident as foreign nationals in the five largest EU Member States (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK), in order to measure and compare their attitudes and behaviour with non-migrant populations.

Setting the scene, the report notes that while freedom of movement within the EU is one of the founding principles of the Union, and the most often cited example of 'what it means to be a European citizen', official figures suggest that less than two per cent of EU residents are counted as living outside their country of origin. 'Despite the opportunities, European citizens seem remarkably reluctant to move and live abroad,' it states. However, there is evidence that cross border mobility is on the rise, thanks to a greater awareness of opportunities among a new generation of ambitious Europeans.

The social background of migrants is definitely shifting, according to the report. Where once they were predominantly low-skilled economic migrants, in recent years movers tend to be better educated and more highly skilled. This is offset somewhat by strong migration flows from North to South of retired citizens, whose education tends to be lower than that of the population as a whole. However, within these overall trends there are considerable differences between different migrant populations. 'For example, while the most recent Spanish migrants to Germany are highly educated, their Italian counterparts have still mostly lower secondary education only (pointing to the existence of aneconomic niche for Italians, such as restaurants and ice-cream shops).'

Similarly, the reasons people cite for moving within the EU vary considerably by country of origin and destination. Overall, however, 'family/love' is the most commonly proffered reason for moving to another country, mentioned by 29.7 per cent of the sample, while perhaps surprisingly 'work opportunities' are cited by just 25.2 per cent. 'Quality of life' was described as the prime factor by 24 per cent of respondents, while seven per cent said 'study' was the reason they moved.

The researchers suspect that the reason why those that have moved within the EU feel more attached to the Union, have a more positive image of Europe and see themselves as being more knowledgeable about European affairs, may be due to the greater 'use' that movers make of European provisions. They point to free movement across borders, access to labour markets and welfare rights in other EU countries and making friends abroad as factors that could deepen citizens' sense of European identity.

Those who live in another EU country tend to be more politicised than the general populations, and are left-leaning in their politics. However, the increased politicisation of EU expatriates fails to translate into active and sustained political participation, and EU movers also tend to vote less than ordinary citizens, with the possible exception of European elections.

The PIONEUR partners carried out an additional study to compare the experiences of migrants from within the EU15 countries to those coming from East and Central Europe. Based on 40 interviews with migrants from one of the newer Member States (Poland) and one candidate country (Romania), they found that while moving across EU borders is not particularly difficult for nationals of either country, settling and establishing long term residency is.

'Both Poles and Romanians experience discrimination, especially in countries such as Italy and France where they usually expect closer cultural ties,' reveals the report. 'Higher skilled migrants have greater opportunities, but downward social mobility is widespread, as their qualifications and talents are not usually recognised in the West.'

The report also notes the rise of what it calls 'circular migration', particularly among Polish citizens, whereby moving back and forwards between another EU country and their own allows them to profit from the benefits of mobility without the drawbacks of immigration and settlement.

In conclusion, the researchers admit that: 'We are not in a position to say whether [...] mobility sustains economic growth and innovation.' Rather, they prefer to focus on the 'political dividends' of EU mobility, which are clearer than the economic benefits. 'In sum, EU movers contribute to reinforce the legitimacy of the EU. They form a 'carrier group' of European identity, the living testimonials of an ever closer Union.'

Further information

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2005
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