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Eastern Europe: German Bank Study Foresees High Outward Migration For 50 Years

Eastern Europeans will be migrating to the West in relatively high numbers for the next 50 years. This is one of the conclusions of a German bank's research report on world migration trends released this month. The author of the report says next year's planned expansion by the European Union to include 10 mostly Eastern European countries will provoke a wave of in-migration to the EU -- in spite of restrictions imposed on the new citizens' freedom of movement. He says some member states -- particularly Germany -- will be harder hit than others.

Prague, 6 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A German bank is predicting the EU's planned eastward expansion next year will provoke relatively large outflows of people from Eastern Europe, and that this trend could continue until 2050 or longer.

Deutsche Bank Research, in a report this week, says current EU members, especially Germany and Austria, could attract as many as 200,000 people a year from Eastern Europe over the coming 10 to 12 years. After that, the number of migrants will fall, but could remain as high as 75,000 people a year for the next 50 years.

Tobias Just, an economist at the bank and a co-author of the study, told RFE/RL: "We are actually not expecting something like a migration 'flood' coming to Western Europe or the industrialized world. However, we expect that migration will trend [upward], [and] that we will [maintain this] high level of migration."

Immigration has become a sensitive issue in the European Union ahead of next year's enlargement that will see 10 mostly Eastern European countries join the bloc in its biggest expansion wave to date.

Many in the EU fear a flood of new immigrants could lower wages and take away jobs. Such concerns have led the EU to impose temporary restrictions on workers in the accession countries from moving freely once the expansion is completed.

Economist Just says, however, that those restrictions will apply mainly to workers with lower skills -- such as those in the construction and agricultural sectors. Students and workers with higher-level skills will be freer to move if they choose. In any event, within five to seven years all of the restrictions will be abolished.

Deutsche Bank reached its conclusions by examining existing wage differentials in the East and West and seeing how such differentials in the past -- in other parts of Europe -- affected previous migrations.

"The major reason [that people move] is [because they are looking for] economic improvement of their situation. They want to realize the higher wages in the West compared to the East. So we try to estimate wage differentials -- these are obvious statistics that we simply plug in -- and then try to figure out how big wage differentials led in past, similar situations," Just said. He cites an earlier wave of EU expansion that brought into the union Spain and Portugal, and how that affected migration patterns.

Geographic distance also plays a factor in Deutsche Bank's analysis -- as immigrants are typically unlikely to stray too far from home. "On the other hand, we have immigration 'costs' to be taken into account, and these are normally assessed by geographic distance. So, the farther you have to travel, the smaller the network you are traveling in, the higher will be the traveling costs," Just said.

Deutsche Bank's predictions are in line with other migration studies. The International Organization for Migration last year concluded in a study that anywhere from 3 million to 5 million people from the accession countries would move to Western Europe by 2020.

Just said all of the countries of the European Union will be affected by immigration, but that Germany will bear the brunt of the changes. Poland, at first, will be the largest source of the new immigration. Poland is both close to Germany geographically and Polish workers earn on average less than half of their counterparts in Western Europe, hence the projected large migration.

Over time, Romania and Bulgaria may replace Poland as the largest supplier countries -- especially after 2007 or 2008 when they are expected to join the EU. "The potential is there [for immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria], but we don't know yet how the European enlargement will be designed [and whether citizens of those countries will be permitted to freely travel to the EU]," Just said. "We expect them to be joining after 2007 or 2008. But as we have seen with the first wave of enlargement in 2004 is that [different types of workers will not enter the labor market at the same time.]"

Just said immigration will have positive and negative effects. For the current EU members, the new immigrants will help reverse the problem of declining populations. For the immigrants themselves, there's the chance to live a better life.

If there's a loser in this, it could be the Eastern European countries themselves, who could see declining productivity in the future. "There is a risk for the Eastern Europeans that the best people will leave their countries -- as we already see now -- if you look around in Western European universities having all of these brilliant Eastern European students. So, if they remain in the Western European countries, all this brilliance will be taken out of the Eastern European parts -- and this means growth potential," Just said.

He said the overall benefit of EU accessions to the candidate countries is positive, but the effects of the brain drain must be taken into account. This drain, however, may not be permanent.

Just said that in Spain, for example, EU accession initially sparked a wave of out-migration. But this reversed itself over time as economic prospects in Spain improved.

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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.