Changes and Challenges of Cross-border Mobility within the European Union

by Trine Lund Thomsen (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 234 Pages
Series: Political and Social Change, Volume 9

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Preface
  • Contents
  • Chapter 1 EU Mobility under Pressure in an Increasingly Closed Europe (Trine Lund Thomsen)
  • Chapter 2 Stealing Jobs and Benefits: Bulgarians and Romanians in British Print Media (Denny Pencheva)
  • Chapter 3 Two Sides of the Baltic Sea: Lithuanians as Labour Migrants and Mobile EU Workers in Sweden (Indre Genelyte)
  • Chapter 4 ‘So Most People Say: Why Don’t You Go Home? Why Are You Doing This? They Feel Kind of Pity to See People Living Like This’: West African Migrants between Agricultural Exploitation, Informal Street Work and Homelessness (Kristine Juul)
  • Chapter 5 Should We Stay or Should We Go? – A Longitudinal Study of the Significance of Affiliation to the Danish Labour Market and Linked Lives for Outmigration Patterns for European Immigrants in Denmark (Ruth Emerek and Rasmus Juul Møberg)
  • Chapter 6 Work Environment and Health among Migrant Workers (Kurt Rasmussen and Karin Biering)
  • Chapter 7 Virtual Communities and the Pursuit of a Higher Quality of Life: Understanding Internet Communication Technologies and Social Media Use among Romanian Migrants after Migration to Denmark (Sahra-Josephine Hjorth)
  • Chapter 8 Accumulation and Conversion of Migrants’ Capital through Cleaning and Construction Jobs in Denmark (Doris P. Simkunas)
  • Chapter 9 Precarious Working Lives – Migrant Workers’ Experience of Working Conditions in the Danish Labour Market (Anna Helene Meldgaard Pedersen and Trine Lund Thomsen)
  • Bionotes
  • Series index

Trine Lund Thomsen

Chapter 1 EU Mobility under Pressure in an Increasingly Closed Europe


Since the beginning of the 1990s, restrictions on freedom of movement and choice of residence of EU citizens have been progressively lifted. The Bologna Process was implemented in 1999 in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) as a means to ensure more comparable, compatible and coherent systems of higher education in Europe. A few years later, the Directive 2004/38/EC introduced new and more liberal rules for movement across borders for work and taking up residence in another EU country. Many obstacles to mobility have thus been abolished or reduced since the establishment of the principle of the free movement of citizens for the purpose of work or study. The legal developments, which have promoted the right to free movement, have affected the lives of European citizens in one way or another, empowering them to cross national borders, to benefit from equal treatment and to have the opportunity to live abroad. Access to welfare benefits in host countries was also made easier, although it continued to be tied to certain requirements (Ochel 2007; Sinn 2005). However, due to the economic crisis causing anti-EU sentiment and increased nationalism, what has been understood by some as progress towards a more integrated trans-EU system has for others fuelled the debate about rights and access to welfare service and benefits. The principle of free mobility can thus lead to strengthened European integration as well as disintegration and increased national protectionism. The purpose of this chapter is to address challenges and opportunities of free labour mobility in the EU with the purpose of framing the current situation and future avenues. The introduction also frames the conditions and themes addressed in the respective chapters in this book. The overall themes and concepts include EU mobility, social networks, labour market participation, social inclusion/exclusion, inequality and precarity.

The European Union guarantees all EU citizens the right to freedom of movement which acts as one of the four pillars of the EU Single Market. It was introduced in order to remove barriers of an insufficiently integrated market economy in the EU by improving possibilities of matching labour supply and demand (Gáková and Dijkstra 2008). However, patterns of contemporary mobility and ←9 | 10→international migration are shaped by a multitude of factors, e.g. political, socio-economic, geographical, demographic and cultural, and the potentials of the freedom of movement within the EU are far from realised. The immigration policies offer some legal, social and political rights to EU citizens who exercise their right to move freely (Geddes 2008). Yet the tendency of internal EU mobility has been relatively low despite the increase of mobile EU citizens. This tendency applies to both the new and the old Member States regardless of their economic development and the openness of their labour market (Barslund and Busse 2016). Institutional structures and individuals as well as the social networks that evolve in the wake of migratory movements shape migration flows. Social networks arising from migratory processes have important influence on the long-term outcomes of social integration. As migratory movement has always caused demographic development, technological change, political conflict and welfare challenges (Castles and Miller 2009), this phenomenon is a highly sensitive political topic with a wide range of challenges and concerns for both exiting and entering countries.

Even though free mobility in recent years has gained increasing focus (Grieco and Urry 2012), the post-enlargement EU mobility still needs empirical support – both at the micro level of life experiences and at the macro level of welfare challenges and policy frames and existing mobility programmes (Thomsen 2010; Favell 2008). The terms ‘free mobility’ or ‘free movers’ only refer to EU citizens as compared to non-EU citizens, who would be categorised as migrants when moving to and within the EU countries. EU citizens crossing borders for employment or educational purposes are often confronted with multiple disadvantages due to insufficient information about the conditions and regulations in the countries of entry, language difficulties, discrimination and social exclusion (ILO 2013). On the one hand, European societies encounter challenges related to the demographic changes of ageing populations and a declining workforce (Holland and Paluchowski 2013). On the other hand, the high unemployment rates among especially the youth group in many European countries, particularly Southern European countries, have consequences for their financial situation.

The primary reason for the intra-EU mobility has mainly been and continues to be employment. Better economic and occupational opportunities and living conditions (increased earnings, chances of getting a job or career developments for themselves and their family) are at the heart of most migration (Papademetriou 2012). In addition to employment, the movement of people may be due to study, family purposes or retirement. The outcome of labour mobility and immigration is largely dependent on the reason for migration and language skills.

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There are several variations across countries and across different groups that influence the decision to seek employment in another EU country: being young, highly educated and living in a city are attributes associated with mobility (Pascouau 2013). Conversely, various factors make it more difficult to move, like having children, being a member of a dual-earner household (decision to move must be based on two careers) and owning a house (Bonin et al. 2008). Other obstacles include difficulties in transmission of skills/qualifications, benefits and family ties. Language, history and geographic distance play an important role in the choice of destination country: Irish workers often emigrate to the UK as well as the US and other English-speaking countries while Portuguese workers often move to Spain and Estonian workers go to Finland. Currently, the causes and decision frameworks of migration are less studied empirically than the economic impacts of resulting flows (OECD Economic Surveys 2012). High unemployment, particularly among young people, and relatively low labour mobility (compared with other regions such as the US and Australia) within and between many of the EU countries co-exist with skill and labour shortages in some countries and regions. This indicates inexpedient national labour market policies, such as high costs of exit and entry, training mismatches or disincentives to participation and barriers to labour mobility. Furthermore, policy-induced barriers to mobility increase the cost of moving for individuals such as the loss of pension entitlements, lack of recognition of qualifications, inaccessibility of some public sector jobs and housing market frictions (OECD 2012).

Despite the freedom of movement in the EU region, the labour markets are still fragmented, and the overall mobility between the EU countries are in most cases relatively low compared to other forms of migration; only 2.5 % of EU citizens live in other Member States, while 4.1 % of EU residents are from outside the European Union (Benton and Petrovic 2013). In recent years, intra-EU mobility has seen significant changes due to the economic crisis: emigration has increased from several of the countries worst hit by the crisis, mostly because of the increase of unemployment or lack of qualified jobs (Eurostat 2016). Despite the relatively low-scale mobility, attitudes towards mobile workers are often rather negative, which Brexit is an extreme example (Wadsworth et al. 2016).

Prior to the EU enlargement, labour mobility was mostly small scale and regional (such as countries that had historical ties and bilateral agreements). Following the EU enlargements in 2004, 2007 and 2013, a larger number of Central and Eastern Europeans (CEE citizens) have moved from East to West, especially to countries that chose not to restrict access to their labour markets. ←11 | 12→In the wake of the economic crisis in 2008, an increased number of Southern Europeans have been moving from south to north due to lack of employment possibilities in their home countries.

Consequences of Intra-EU Mobility

Cross-border mobility in the EU region is still in many ways challenged by national regulations and restrictions causing structural barriers. Those reduce efficient use of labour resources in a time of globalisation and demographic change and hinder an important adjustment mechanism in the region. For the EU as a whole, cross-border labour mobility offers on the one hand a number of advantages by allowing a more efficient matching of workers’ skills with job vacancies and facilitating the general upskilling of the European workforces (Barslund and Busse 2016; Heinz and Ward-Warmedinger 2006). On the other hand, the free mobility and the social rights of EU citizens may increase unemployment rates among national workers and to various degrees challenge the welfare systems in the different EU countries. In Denmark, as in other EU countries, a main challenge of EU citizens’ right to welfare benefits is linked to the perceived phenomenon of welfare tourism, which causes increased national protectionism and anti-immigration sentiment and reduces the public support of the European Union (Jørgensen and Thomsen 2016). The welfare tourism narrative is, however, not documented. On the contrary, research shows that welfare tourism is not a real problem, but rather that EU labour mobility is an economic advantage for the destination countries (Dustmann and Franttini 2014). In Estonia, as in many other exit countries, the challenge is quite different as the main concern is the emigration of the youth population causing a deficit of especially high-skilled workers. Various challenges pertaining to mobility are present in all EU countries and on all levels of society, and it is therefore crucial to develop ways of protecting states, markets and individuals. Development of sustainable social policies is dependent on the institutional mobility system facilitating efficient mobility structures that ensure equal opportunities in the respective destination countries.

The acquisition of European mobility depends to a large extent on various domains in the different EU countries. In order to identify both promoting and obstructing mechanisms at national levels, it is crucial to investigate various relevant domains. These domains provide together a basic frame for studying the intersection of various relevant key categories such as skills, employment, nationality/ethnicity, age and gender.

Fig. 1 Analysis of labour mobility

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Fig. 1 illustrates layers and domains that are central to the analysis of labour mobility. The rationale is that the success of mobility and social integration depends partly on the individual factors, such as skills, social capital and motivation for mobility. In turn, this is influenced by the situation in the exiting country, and partly by the characteristics and the policies and regulations of the welfare state and the labour market in the entering country. The intersection of individual characteristics may be perceived as more or less positive in the country of destination, making some groups less advantaged than others.

Despite the freedom of movement of EU citizens, many administrative obstacles are still hampering mobility. Policy-induced barriers to mobility such as the loss of pension entitlements, differences in national regulations of professional qualifications, inaccessibility of some public sector jobs and of the housing market increase the cost of migration for individuals (OECD Economic Surveys 2012). Thus, the persistence of national forms of labour and housing market regulations, welfare state and fiscal systems constrain mobility between EU countries (European Commission 2010). Concerning labour market access, the major barriers are related to the recognition of professional qualifications and skills, cross-country information about job vacancies and difficulties in obtaining employment in the public sector.

The profile of mobility has changed in the last decades in ways that provoke challenges for existing labour market structures as well as for family structures, i.e. more women are engaged in mobility. It can, however, be argued that the importance of female migration and mobility lies not merely in their increased ←13 | 14→numbers but also in their actual position in the types of labour market and welfare system domains (Kofman 2012). There are, however, still more gender-related barriers for mobility that highlight the need for promoting flexible working hours as well as the mutual recognition of diplomas and professional qualifications, and improvements of child-care facilities and services for families need to be made in order to facilitate equality in mobility in the EU (Ronzulli 2013). The potential mover from both old1 and new2 EU Member States tends to be younger and better educated than the native population (Zaiceva and Zimmermann 2008). However, young men and women are confronted with increasing uncertainty in the achievement of a satisfactory transition in the labour market, which might have damaging effects on individuals, communities, economies and societies. The significant categories underpinning EU mobility are those of skills, gender and age. These categories are essential to incorporate in order to enable a more holistic understanding of the complexity of labour mobility within the European Union.

There are three aspects of recent developments of migration policy, which are particularly important because they affect opportunities and challenges of EU mobility. The first aspect is that labour migration policies are increasingly driven by sector-specific considerations. Second, labour migration policies are influenced by developments associated with globalisation and Europeanisation and third, the migration industry, private actors and agencies play a more pronounced role in facilitating or detaining the flow of migrants (Menz and Caviedes 2010). These three aspects represent in various ways aspects of glocalisation in the way that global and local developments become mutually interrelated (Bauman 2013). This development in the European region has in various ways both intended and unintended consequences for the respective Member States and their labour markets.

Welfare States, Labour Markets and the Liberal Paradox

In most EU countries, including Denmark, there have been heated debates, public as well as political, concerning labour mobility in the EU. Some claim that CEE migrant workers are a burden to the destination countries’ economy, produce competition for jobs, cause unemployment and social dumping and put pressure on social benefits and housing. Other voices express that the free labour mobility is a benefit for the economy of the destination country and may help solve labour market bottlenecks. Indeed, much research shows that CEE migrant workers provide an economic contribution to the destination country. As mentioned earlier, studies also show that welfare tourism is not an actual ←14 | 15→problem as CEE workers contribute more to the national welfare system than they withdraw/claim.

Immigration and integration policies are to a significant extent mediated by the structure of the welfare state (Koopmans and Statham 2010). Esping-Andersen has distinguished between three types of welfare state on the basis of their degrees of ‘decommodification,’ which occurs when a service is rendered as a matter of right, and when a person can maintain a livelihood without reliance on the market (Esping-Andersen 1990). Decommodification entails both the scope of welfare state entitlements and the provision levels of these entitlements. In Esping-Andersen’s typology, ‘social democratic’ welfare states have the highest level of decommodification, ‘liberal’ welfare states the lowest and ‘conservative’ welfare states intermediary levels of decommodification. There is a tendency of a higher employment rate in countries with more flexible and open labour markets, as for example in Ireland and the UK, than in countries with more regulated labour markets such as the Scandinavian countries (Aleksynska and Tritah 2013). Flexibility of labour markets is primarily measured on two parameters: the employment protection legislation index and the density of trade unions (Corrigan 2013).

A common challenge of the welfare states is the so-called liberal paradox where the economic logic of liberalism is one of openness, but the political and legal logic is one of closure (Hollifield 2004). This dilemma is particularly present in the ‘social democratic’ welfare states, where the access to and level of social welfare services are quite high. Instead of upholding the Universalist principle embedded in the Nordic welfare state model, public policies and the attribution and redistribution of public goods and rights are increasingly developed within a hierarchical system of civic stratification legitimising welfare chauvinism as a political strategy (Jørgensen and Thomsen 2016). This causes unequal opportunities and conditions for mobile and migrant workers in different ways in comparison with national workers due to regulations. International economic forces (trade, investment and migration) have been pushing states towards greater openness, while the international state system and powerful (domestic) political forces push states towards greater closure (Jørgensen and Thomsen 2016). This is a liberal paradox because it highlights some of the contradictions inherent in emerging migration state liberalism. Migration is in this optics a challenge, in the sense that the movement of individuals across national boundaries can violate the principle of sovereignty which requires a degree of territorial closure (Hollifield 1994b; Joppke ; Sassen 1996).

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Transnational Mobility and Social Networks

The perspective on transnational movers and transnational social fields in this connection aims to address the relation between spatial mobility and social mobility (Faist 2006; Savage 1988). Existing networks facilitating mobility, spreading information about job possibilities, housing, transportation, etc., often shape migration flows and opportunities (Glick-Schiller, Basch and Blanc-Szanton 1992). The social networks in transnational social spaces link together the country of entry and the country of exit (Faist 2006). Transnational social space is primarily a means to sustain ties and relations of geographically mobile persons, networks and organisations border-crossing multiple nation-states (Faist 2006, 2010).

Transnational mobility may in some cases be an avenue for social mobility, particularly for women from countries where their opportunities are blocked (Favell 2008). Based on this assumption, it is important to explore further whether spatial mobility leads to social mobility through skills acquisition or to underemployment and social immobility. Access to the labour market and socio-spatial inclusion are often assumed key elements of effective and successful participation in the destination society. However, in relation to this assumption it is interesting to ask how different forms of mobility constitute societal values and sets of relations, elements of participation that may become important for social inclusion. Labour mobility may therefore be perceived as covering other forms of mobility that are important to pay attention to in order to provide understanding of the ‘success’ of labour mobility, being the connection between spatial, occupational and social mobility.

Labour Market Participation and Social Inclusion


This book presents the results of the MIDA-project – the impact of labour migra-tion from the Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries to the Danish labour market. In addition, it includes chapters that focus on labour mobility in other EU countries. The project stems from collaboration between researchers from the former CoMID (the Research Center for the Study of Migration and Diversity) at Aalborg University and the Department of Occupational Medicine at the Regional Hospital West Jutland.


ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2020 (June)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 234 pp., 5 fig. col., 7 fig. b/w, 6 tables

Biographical notes

Trine Lund Thomsen (Volume editor)

Trine Lund Thomsen has been engaged in research within the area of migration and integration, under the heading of inclusion and exclusion, for a great many years. The main focus of her work lies on the causes and consequences of migra-tion and on integration processes and their impact on individuals and societies.


Title: Changes and Challenges of Cross-border Mobility within the European Union