Britain, for the time being, is out on a European limb in regard to immigration from the ten accession states. This is a good thing. There’s competitive advantage in being open to resourceful, economically-active migrants while other Nations aren’t. While the UK economy is still growing strongly and while there are obvious gaps in our labour profile we should be pioneering an economically rational, open migration policy.
Different European nations will adopt different policies on incomers from the new member States. That is as it should be. A healthy European economy – especially in the more complicated, post-accession environment – is going to depend on diversity. A single, continent-wide policy on East-to-West migration will flatten regional development, close off opportunities for migrants and for Western businesses. It’s fascinating that it could be population pressure from the East that produces the first really important divergence in National policy within the EU.
Such a big, philosophical divergence could be very productive for citizens of the enlarged Union. The more open nations will put growth ahead of internal stability and labour continuity – they could rush ahead of the more conservative, closed economies who’ll set aside growth in pursuit of the quiet life. The busier, more open economies will build the capacity to soak up growing demand and they’ll thrive.
This all depends on the continued growth of demand – in Europe and elsewhere – of course but we could begin to see a gap opening up between the slow-growth, closed economies (Germany, France, Holland and the other nations taking advantage of the accession treaty’s full seven years migration protection) and a group of fast-growth, open economies. I’d like Britain to be in the latter group – responsive, risk taking and ready to shape a more open, diverse Europe. A free flow of labour, investment capital and ideas between Britain and the soon-to-be tigers to the East can only benefit all of us.
Here’s an excellent article (with useful graphs) from Stefan Wagstyl in the FT (it’s a real pity that so much good journalism is locked up inside FT.com, inaccessible to anyone who doesn’t buy an expensive subscription).