There is a great deal of discussion about immigration in Britain and Germany and the extent to which this is driven by the EU’s freedom of movement principle. In the case of the Britain, this is resulting in increasingly Eurosceptic public discourse due to perceived uncontrolled immigration and border, resulting in questions about whether to stay in the EU or not. In the case of Germany, the concerns revolve around benefit abuse, especially the recent EU member countries such as Romania and Bulgaria, which acquired freedom of movement rights in 2014. This post examines EU and non-EU migration trends, including those from old, recent (A8) and new (A2) countries.
Recent Immigration has been at a Historical High
First things first: it must be noted that the net migration figures in Britain in the last decade are unparalleled. During the period until 1982, the UK actually experienced a net outflow of people. This means that more Britons, on balance, chose to leave Britain and were obviously received by other countries. Until 1997 there was an average net annual inflow of 50,000. With the accession to the European Union (EU) of the A8 countries (e.g. Poland, Slovakia, etc.) and, crucially, with the UK decision to allow people from these countries to work in Britain well in advance of being required to do so under the transition rules of the EU, this rose to a peak of 244,000 in 2004. It has been decreasing since then and reached 177,000 in 2012. The latest data suggest that net migration is increasing once again (209,000 in 2013), probably because of the influence of Romanian and Bulgarian immigration, combined with the fact that Britain’s economy is growing once again. Since these have much smaller populations that the A8 countries, this is not likely to last long. Broadly the same trend was evident in Germany but see below for variations, particularly in recent years where net migration has taken-off.
In a previous post, we defined the key types of immigrant; asylum seekers are basically a sub-set of immigrants. According to Eurostat data, in 2013 there were 434,450 applications made to all EU-28 countries. The largest volume of applications was to Germany (126,705 or 29.1% of all applications in the EU), France (66,265) and Sweden (54,270). The UK received the fourth largest volume of applications (29,875) but this was noticeably less than the several other EU countries (6.8%). Given the size of its population and economy, the UK received a relatively modest number of applications during a humanitarian crisis which is considered to be the worst since WWII and is concentrated on Afghanistan, Syria, and Somalia. Nevertheless, the Office of national Statistics estimates that asylum seekers accounted for around 4.5% of UK immigration. The German equivalent is bound to be higher since it approves about 30% of the applications. But the fact is that the public perception of the volumes of asylum seekers is out of kilter with reality as discussed in a separate post.
Let us be clear about this part of the immigration debate: the Conservative-led Government does not propose turn asylum seekers away and, as an aside, neither does Ukip at the present time. The same applies to the German Government as well as AfD (and as far as I know PEGIDA) in Germany. This is only as it should be in humane, modern societies. It should be stressed that although there are international conventions governing this issue, each country makes its own decisions and determines which applicants to accept or not. Neither is this an area which the EU is involved in.
The net migration is the difference between immigration (arrivals) and emigration (departures) since all countries exhibit a degree of turnover in their population. Ultimately, in terms of social and economic, cultural and other pressures that may build-up in a country, net migration is that really matters. Given our focus on UK and Germany, Table 1 shows two contrasting trends. Germany has been experiencing a very sharp increase in net migration during the period 2009-2012, a trend which has continued up to today. In 2014, the net migration in Britain reached 260,000 and 470,000 in Germany. We have seen in the previous posts, the public perception of asylum seekers and immigration in Germany contrasts somewhat with that of the UK. This is not to imply or suggest that immigration is not an issue in public discourse in Germany – far from it. However, in terms of public perception and public discourse, it is relatively equable, except in the case of the PEGIDA movement, which is specifically targeted at Muslims (see the recent a post on this issue), though there is a chance that it will implode following the resignation of, for the lack of a better expression, its colourful ex-leader. Generally though, the contrast with UK is evident. Yet the statistics show that new migration in the same period had been declining in the UK until 2014, undoubtedly influenced by Conservative party’s target of “tens of thousands” (i.e. up to 100,000) immigrants per annum, whereas it is increasing steeply in Germany. The German population rose to 81.1 million people in 2014, the fourth annual increase in a row, boosted by the highest level of net migration in more than two decades.
Table 1: Net migration in Britain and Germany (2009-2012)
Source: Table 7c: Net migration in European Union countries, 2002-2012, House of Commons Library, 2014
There be Foreigners in EU Countries: Freedom of Movement at work
Looking at the total figures, the countries with the largest number of foreign-national residents in 2013 were Germany (7.7 million), Spain (5.1 million), UK (4.9 million), Italy (4.4 million), and France (4.1 million). The countries with largest number of foreign-born residents were Germany (10.2 million), UK (7.8 million), France (7.5 million) and Spain (6.2 million). These figures include very large numbers of Britons (1.3 million), Germans (1.4 million) and other EU nationals living in other EU countries, not least in Spain and France. EU migrants accounted for 35% of the total migrant stock in the EU countries as a whole in 2010 living, studying, working and retiring in elsewhere than in their own country. This is, after all, one of the wonderful things that are taken for granted in the EU, right?
Of Natives and Foreigners
Another interesting dimension is the proportion of migrants relative to the overall population. The table below illustrates that, overall, the UK and Germany had very similar levels of foreign-born inhabitants (12.3% and 12.4% respectively) as a percentage of the overall population. The latest figures are around the 14% mark for both countries.
Table 2: Foreign-national and foreign-born populations of DE and UK (at 1 Jan 2013)
||Foreign National, Number
||Foreign National % of total population
||Foreign Born, Number
||Foreign Born % of total population
||Density of Foreign Born (x per 1000)
Source: Table 10: Foreign-national and foreign-born populations of EU countries, at 1 Jan 2013, House of Commons Library, 2014
It should be noted that the percentage of foreign-born populations in the UK and Germany are in fact relatively modest compared with many EU countries such as Luxemburg (42.4%) and Cyprus (23.2%), both outliers, well as others such as Belgium (15.7%), Ireland (16%), Austria (16.1%), Sweden (15.4%), etc. The percentages do not appear to be out of line with similarly developed and advanced countries. Indeed, given Britain’s extensive colonial past, unlike Germany, Ireland, etc., suggests that the percentage could have been higher still. What is out of line though is the public perception of how many foreigners there are in the UK (47% more than is really the case), Germany (24%), something which is repeated in other European countries (see a previous post on the perceptions and reality of immigration). This misalignment in public perceptions and reality is even more pronounced when it comes to estimates of Muslims: UK (76% more than is really the case) and Germany (69%).
EU and non-EU immigration
Another important dimension is the origin of the immigrants. Eurostat data demonstrate that in the case of Germany, a notable proportion of the immigrants (14.7%) are actually citizens returning to their own country. However, half are citizens from other EU countries, with the balance (34.8%) being non-EU citizens. The distribution is somewhat different in the case of the UK (16.1%, 31.4% and 52.2% respectively). In other words, Germany has mainly EU and own nationals as immigrants, whereas the UK has a similar proportion of nationals returning home, but a much larger proportion of non-EU immigrants. This may be explained by the greater influence of the old and new Commonwealth on the migratory patterns of the UK, as well as the economic malaise of the country in 2012. However, it should be made clear (see definitions post) that the UK is fully in charge of its own borders and of its own immigration policy when it comes to UK and non-EU nationals. The latter is not the responsibility of the EU.
The EU-related immigration (31.6% of the total) is the key element that the UK not in charge of because of the principle of freedom of movement of people, one of the four basic freedoms of the EU. Based on the data from 2012, the bulk of the immigration issue, as far as the UK is concerned, was not the EU and its freedom of movement, contrary to what one might conclude from the current political debate and the media reporting in the UK. The contrast with Germany, which does receive more than half of its immigrants from other EU countries, could not be greater. The German Chancellor and the President have gone out of their way to make it clear that asylum seekers and immigrants generally, including Muslims, are a part of the country. They have also made it clear on numerous occasions that the EU’s freedom of movement principle is not up for renegotiation.
Table 3: Immigration by Citizenship in DE and UK (2012)
||Citizens of own country
||Other EU countries
||Non EU Countries
The EU Accession Countries
The EU freedom of movement principle affected about a third of the immigration flows, whereas half were subject to immigration controls in Britain. Furthermore, the recent Accession countries that have been subject of such extensive debate in the media and political circles (the so-called A8 or Eastern European countries that acceded to the EU in 2004, including Poland, Slovakia, etc.) actually made-up 12% of all immigrants in 2012.
The above point reinforces the extent to which the immigration debate in the UK is distorted, though A8 immigration was certainly important during 2004 – 2010. Based on the data available relating to 2012, half of the immigration flows are entirely controlled by the UK and are subject to border controls. This has little to do with the recent Accession or “new” EU countries. Presumably the public is not particularly interested in reducing immigration from the “old” EU (15) countries such as France, Italy and Germany (i.e. 17.1% of the total). In terms of the recent members that are now eligible to work throughout the EU, namely Bulgaria and Romania (the so-called A2), 2014 started with a trickle of immigrants, but this increased steadily, so that net immigration is on the up. Consequently, the EU immigration debate has increasingly focused on the A2 countries where, in addition to the numbers involved, the implicit debate is often about the Roma communities from those countries.
Let us be clear about one thing: it is not the EU’s freedom of movement principle that has historically contributed the largest percentages of immigrants to the UK, except for a short period of time (2004 – 2010). This period coincided with a concerted effort on the part of the UK to actively court people from the A8 countries to migrate to the UK. The UK had made a political and economic decision that A8 immigrants were needed to sustain the economic boom and associated prosperity of Britain at the time. These decision cannot be used to subsequently blamed either the EU (after all, the transition arrangements were in place and the UK chose not to make use of them) or the people who heeded these official overtures from the duly elected British government of the time. Nothing can change these facts. The real immigration story, if there is one, is, has always been and will continue to be the old/new Commonwealth (ca. 26%) and the Other Foreign countries (another ca. 26%), as illustrated in the Table below.
Table 4: Immigration to the UK by Nationality, 2009-2012
Source: Table 2a: Immigration to the UK by nationality, 2000-2012, House of Commons Library, 2014
EU15: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, the Irish Republic, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden; A8: Eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004, namely Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia; EU other: includes all other EU 27 countries (Croatia joined the EU later); Old Commonwealth: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa; and New Commonwealth: all Commonwealth countries not part of the Old Commonwealth, including those of the Indian sub-continent and African Commonwealth countries other than South Africa.
It would be great if we would refrain from denying the importance and value in economic, cultural and social terms of the EU’s principle of freedom of movement (of people, goods capital and services) to all European citizens. This applies particularly to Britons and Germans, who are themselves far from averse from making full use of the freedom of movement to study, work, retire and invest (e.g. second / retirement homes) elsewhere in the EU. For its part, the German government has always nailed its colours firmly to the mast, as have all other EU nations: freedom of movement is the foundation of the EU and is simply not up for discussion. To put it crudely, Britain can either like it or lump it, otherwise it has to leave the EU.
To make a decision about leaving the EU on the basis of a “swamping” by EU citizens or in response to “benefit tourism” (I a plan a separate post in the so-called abuse of benefits) and other vague anti-EU sentiment may make for good short-term domestic politics in a pre-election period but it is not logical or in Britain’s long term interest. I agree that there are criticisms to be levelled at the EU and that there is a legitimate debate to be had about the role of the nation-state and the principle of subsidiarity but the EU immigration debate is being used excessively to castigate the EU.
I am only too aware of the quotation: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” I do not expect all readers to be swayed let alone persuaded by the statistics that I have presented above, not least because some of them are quite dated as per the December 2014 House of Commons Library report used. I am sure that others can and probably will make an even more convincing case that Britain continues to be “swamped” by immigrants, that the key problems are the EU and the freedom of movement and that the sooner the UK takes full control over its borders and immigration policies, the better the UK will be much the better for it. So I only ask for consideration to be given to the following issues:
- The numbers of asylum seekers has declined to pretty small numbers in the UK but an opposite trend is taking hold in Germany, especially because of the Syrian crisis. The numbers accepted by Britain are relatively small but larger in Germany. There is broad consensus about the importance of receiving asylum seekers as long as they are not bogus.
- The UK had a major surge of net immigration during 2004-2010 and much of this was from the new EU member countries. The UK did not have to let in immigrants from the A8 countries at the time but chose to actively court them to come, live and work in the UK so as to satisfy its overheating labour market and prolong its economic boom at the time. The flows have declined dramatically since 2010, as has overall net migration to the UK but are increasing again, not least because the British economy is growing once again and Britons are employing the immigrants.
- There is now significantly less immigration from the A8 countries such as Poland, so the debate has moved on to the A2 countries, namely the Bulgarians (population of 7 million) and Romanians (population of 22 million) and implicitly the Roma community (population of 10-12 million in the whole of Europe). The debate on welfare tourism and EU’s freedom of movement will continue in the UK and Germany, though in the latter case it focuses on specifically on benefit fraud/abuse.
- The majority of immigrants to the UK in 2012 were either UK nationals or non-EU immigrants from the Commonwealth (68.3%) and beyond. This is an issue which the British government is entirely responsible for and exclusively in charge of its own borders. It is not an EC/EU issue.
- Unlike the UK, the number of net migrants is peaking in Germany, contributing to population growth in the last four years. There is a lively debate about immigration and the PEGIDA movement has been growing. However, there is nowhere near the same degree of emotive talk on immigration, of being swamped, of uncontrolled immigration and so on, despite having almost identical levels of foreign-born population and absorbing increasing levels of immigration.
At the end of the day, the issue is not so much about numbers but about perceptions, emotions, geographical concentrations, etc. There are very real stresses and strains in society at large in Britain and Germany and immigration is a contributor to them. The politicians and media are tapping into those voter concerns but merely debating the symptoms of those concerns by focusing almost exclusively on the ills of the EU, the freedom of movement of people (but not capital, of course) and EU immigration. Would life suddenly be that much better in terms of housing, education, health, wages, employment, benefits, taxes, social services, environment, transportation, etc. as a result of leaving the EU (see the related post on the British Question)? Since the EU has either limited or no responsibility at all for almost all these I very much doubt it. The real causes of the stresses and strains, greatly exacerbated by austerity in Britain and long-term real reductions in net incomes in Germany, will be the topic of future blog posts. I believe that the real causes are to be found much closer to home than either politicians or much of the media care to acknowledge, especially in the build-up to a General Election.
Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU