So Ed Miliband today weighs into the UK debate on immigration. Others are better placed to express the overall problems with this. I am instead going to focus on one small aspect of Miliband’s comments, namely this point at the end of The Guardian piece:
Impose maximum transitional controls for 7 years on the future EU accession countries such as Croatia. No change to free movement of labour within EU
There is no doubt about it: far more people came to the UK from the 8 central and eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 than anyone expected. But the population of those countries, that all joined the EU in one go, is 75 million. Romania + Bulgaria (now in already) and all the rest of the Balkans total less than 50 million, and these countries are not all joining at the same time. Croatia, the subject of Miliband’s call for transition periods and due to join the EU next year, has a population of 4.2 million – the UK is absolutely not going to get waves of migrants from there. Nor from Serbia (7.1 million) or Macedonia (2.1 million) the next two likely entrants. Turkey, the big one, is not going to be joining the EU for at least a decade, and if Miliband thinks he can predict how that enlargement is going to work he has more foresight than I do.
The second issue, generally ignored in the UK ‘debate’ on this (i.e. not just ignored by Miliband) is that the number of EU migrants coming to the UK in 2004 was so large because only 3 EU Member States opened their labour markets – Ireland and Sweden were the only two others. In that context it’s inevitable that many more came to the UK than elsewhere. But the UK’s decision then actually, for once, showed the UK as a more responsible member of the EU than other notionally core countries like France and Germany. The real solution, if Miliband or anyone else in the UK were to be responsible enough to push for it, would be to make sure all the countries in the EU agreed the same transition periods for migration from new EU Member States, meaning disproportionate numbers would not end up in just one Member State.
[UPDATE] @malisoko has rightly pointed out on Twitter that Montenegro will likely join the EU before Serbia and Macedonia. True, but as there are just 650k people there I think my main point stands!