European integration slow? Think again…….

Bureaucrats in Brussels and in local European capitals might try to put spanners in various wheels, but Europeans are voting with their feet. Before the iron curtain fell there was a migration to the sun with France, Spain and Portugal receiving large numbers of Brits, Scandinavians, Germans and Dutch, who bought second homes and/or retired in those countries.

These immigrants did not do a lot for the receiving economies. OK, they bought properties, but they generally did not contribute a lot economically to their new ‘homelands’. Why would they? The majority were retired and only wanted to soak up the sun.

The tide changed when the iron curtain came down and the EU expanded into the former Eastern Bloc. Suddenly hundreds of thousands of people were able to travel to Western Europe and find a job, be it legal or not. In the UK the estimate at some point wast that there were up to one million Poles living and working there. This changed the fabric of life in the UK. Suddenly there were reliable builders, plumbers and other tradesmen. Small Polish shops appeared in towns all over the UK, indicating a big change in the population.

Other countries have seen similar influxes. There are now 30.000 Bulgarians working in Cyprus. They work primarily in tourism, construction, and agriculture, similar to the type of work the Poles do in the UK.

Germany has also been a traditional destination for foreign workers in Europe. The country is home to over 1.5 million Turkish passport holders, although the number has recently been slowly declining. The number of Turks dwarfs the number of immigrants from other countries. Other notable source countries are Romania, Poland and Bulgaria. The number of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria have been growing sharply over the last few years.

But a combination of worsening economic conditions in Western Europe, comparatively weak currencies and an unprecendented surge in the home economies has made it unattractive for many immigrants to remain in their adopted countries. The tide is changing again…..

The tipping point came at the end of 2008. The first group who were hit by the economyin the UK were the Polish builders. And many were not prepared to hang around for the Olympic construction boom whilst the economy worsened.

On top of that, the Polish economy experienced an upturn. The zlotwasy was at a high and although there was inflation in Poland, it was not as noticable because the currency was strong.”

Half of the estimated one million British-based Poles are expected to return home, said the Centre for International Relations, a Warsaw-based think-tank.

Chris Zietkowski, 34, a Polish painter and decorator, told The Times that he wanted to return home. “Two years ago I could make five times the amount of money here than I could in Poland,” he said. “Now the wages are about the same and the living costs in the UK are much higher. There is a lot of work in Poland, probably more than in the UK. It’s a good time to go back.”

It’s bad news for the Brits and all the other countries who saw a big influx of people. They now have to rely on less reliable and less hard working local staff again. But it’s good news for the countries they return to. Their experience and hard earned currency will no doubt stimulate their local economies. And having lived in countries with different standards, they might demand similar standards back home, bringing Europe closer together again. Something Brussels can not achieve through enforced legislation!

We’re biased, but we’re all for a more open Europe, where working in another country should be as simple as moving to another town. Unfortunately pensions, health care, banking systems and telecom companies are still blissfully unaware that there is one (sort of) homogeneous market out there.

When will Brussels truly enforce open markets and free movement of people, services and goods? Europe can only grow together through personal initiatives by people who have lived and worked around Europe. You can not force it, only stimulate it!

What is your experience with working around Europe?
Let us know.
We’re curious to hear your story!

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