There is a lot of talk about the labour markets in Europe. Ever since the crisis that started in 2008, there has been a constant interest in the topic. And during the past years, with the recent flows of migrants entering Europe, labour markets were presented as an argument in favour of immigration from outside of Europe.
Briefly put, the argument is as follows; Germany has low unemployment, but also low birth rates. With Germany’s current birth rates their population size will decrease unless migrants take their place. It is deemed necessary that the country’s labour force remains the same size, so that it can pay taxes needed to sustain the ever increasing group of retired Germans. Hence, migrants should not only be tolerated, but basically welcomed as Germany’s saviors.
If we were to assume that Germany does indeed need people from outside its borders to fill those positions, is this the most sensible solution?
Unemployment throughout Europe is not consistent
Although Germany’s economy may be performing great, the same cannot be said for the economies of Southern and Eastern Europe. Spain, Italy and Greece all struggle with high rates of unemployment, pushing their nations into poverty. Spain alone has an unemployment rate of 18.8% with over 4 million Spaniards looking for work. Italy boasts an unemployment rate of 11.5%, and although decreasing, it means there are still plenty Italians jobless. And with several Italian government-subsidized programs coming to an end, this number may is likely to increase again during the year.
With an unemployment rate of 23.1%, Greece is still the worst off European country. Even if we look beyond the EU, there is Serbia with an unemployment rate of 13%. Surely, we cannot claim that Europe as a whole is in need of an increased supply of labour?
On top of Spain, Italy and Greece, there are the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees that are currently working in Poland. And then there are those European nations not yet included in the free movement of labour, such as Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia, which could fill critical roles if Western Europe has a high demand for labour.
Why doesn’t the EU promote this more?
Why is the EU not grasping this opportunity to properly integrate their labor markets? One of the reasons the American economy outperforms the European economy is the higher willingness of people to relocate for work, which increases the match between labour market supply and demand.
Of course this is easier in the US as it is one nation where everyone more or less speaks the same values and language, and which has a more homogenous culture.
But this US advantage doesn’t mean it’s impossible in Europe. Germany has demand, Spain has supply. Both nations have a shared history and European culture, and moreover, both nations are member states of the EU. The EU could kill two birds with one stone by implementing programs that support Spanish people moving to Germany’s labor market.
Additionally, one might wonder why all the jobs are clustered in Germany rather than being spread across the EU. Is it a problem with regulations, infrastructure, or wages? Either way, the most obvious solution to this problem lies in Europe itself.
Whatever the difficulties may be, surely this would be an easier solution than importing millions of people from a different culture, different religion, different language, who may have overall different values?
Now, one may say that although it is not the only option to import non-European immigrants, there is still a benefit for Germany to import these immigrants. That even though they could have gotten them from Spain, it is just as useful for Germany to get them from Africa and the Middle-East.
However, that ignores the fact that plenty of media outlets claimed that we are fully dependent on those immigrants to fill those jobs.
Well, that is simply a false claim and should not be used as an argument in favour of mass immigration. In the most optimistic view, if for Germany it does not matter if the workers are African or Spanish, then it still matters for Spain as their unemployment suffers and will suffer more with an increase of illegal immigrants flooding their country through the narrow street of Gibraltar.
Lastly, there are those that say it does not matter, because without migrants Europe’s overall population will continue to shrink. But surely there are no benefits to a growing population if parts of the workforce continues to sit around unemployed in the south of Europe? Surely the EU is a union of equal nations and not a union that does whatever suits Germany?
With all this talk about requiring migrants for labour, let us just not forget those nations in Europe that have had high unemployment for the last decade.