Understanding free movement and migration in the European Union
Overview of EU migration patterns
People move into and around the EU for all sorts of reasons. The largest numbers of mobile EU citizens living outside their countries of birth in 2017 were those in Germany, the UK, France, Spain and Italy, and the largest numbers, unsurprisingly, tend to be in older EU member states (the EU15) and those with high wages, and large labour markets.
Most academic analysis tends to focus on four ‘standard’ drivers of migration — people who move for work, study, to join loved-ones or to escape from conflicts, disasters or persecution. However the analysis undertaken by REMINDER shows that this is a very superficial way of understanding why people move: Mobile EU citizens, and ‘third country nationals’ (a term used to describe non-EU migrants living in the EU) describe much more nuanced and mixed motivations for moving. These can involve several of the ‘standard’ drivers at once — a person who moves to study may also have moved because there were better work opportunities and a loved-one at the same time — but also much more abstract concepts based on a desire to live an interesting, or more comfortable, life such as ‘wanderlust’, better weather, or simply curiosity.
Return migration — where nationals of one country who have been living in another chose to return to their country of citizenship — is a huge and often overlooked part of intra-EU mobility. In fact the REMINDER study found that Romanians returning to Romania after living in another EU member state was the largest country to country flow in the whole EU in 2017, this was followed by Spanish citizens returning to Spain.
While the largest numbers of mobile EU citizens are found in the larger countries with bigger populations, labour markets and economies, the biggest concentrations are generally in smaller countries. In Luxembourg, for example, more than 40% of the population are citizens of other EU member states; in Cyprus the share is nearly 13% and in Ireland nearly 9%.
EU mobile citizens come from all countries, but the largest populations by country of origin come from two of the newer member states with the largest populations — Poland and Romania.