Experts from Germany and Sweden, which take on most migrants in the EU, argue that the massive number of people arriving in Europe are much more than a simple burden on national budgets. According to them, they are also an economic opportunity for the EU facing its ageing and shrinking population.

Last year more than one million people sought asylum in the EU and the number is expected to be even higher this year. It’s been described as a humanitarian crisis, but what does it really mean for the European economy?

That question was raised at a debate on Tuesday (January 19), organised by the Brussels based economic think tank Bruegel.

Germany is the country which receives most migrants in actual numbers. Klaus Zimmermann, from an institute for the study of labour in Bonn  (IZA), argues that this shouldn’t be seen as a problem. Germany, as well as the EU, are facing ageing and shrinking population. Therefore migrants are needed.

“If we want to grow in the future, we need migrants from outside. The current crisis is a chance to establish our immigration policies in a better way. And also to improve our measures to integrate people and to make them profitable for our countries,” Zimmermann argued.

Refugees no threat to natives

Zimmermann said that migrants may be a burden to social systems in the short term. But he also pointed at studies showing that the fears of increased unemployment and decreasing wages due to migration are unfounded. Migrants, including low skilled refugees, contribute to the economy in the long term.

While Germany receives the highest number of migrants, Sweden is the country with most migrants per capita.

Joel Hellstrand, who is senior policy officer at the Swedish Employment Service, has been working with projects trying to match migrant competence with demand on the labour market. The health sector is one example where they have been able to fill gaps on the Swedish labour market using migrant workers.

“During the last six months, we have had intense discussions with Swedish healthcare providers, public and private, who are very eager to provide internships for newly arrived pharmacists, dentists, doctors and nurses for example. And for those professions there is a big demand in Swedish hospitals and primary health care centres for example,” Hellstrand explained.

EU missing the opportunity

However, with the current EU policies being pursued, Europe cannot fully profit from the massive flow of migrants which are coming, according to Zimmermann. He calls for better integration and also for more mobility on the European labour market in general.

The IZA Director also criticises the EU migration policy as such. Instead of distributing migrants more equally among member states, borders are being closed and the main aim in the EU is rather to decrease the number of people arriving.

The consequence, says Zimmermann, will only be illegal migration – and illegal migrants can’t be integrated and contribute to the society to the same extent. Therefore, Europe is not taking the chance to profit from the situation with a lot of new, young people, coming to Europe.

Guntram Wolff, director at Bruegel, is more pessimistic looking forward in terms of Europe profiting from the migration flows. He predicts more border controls in the near future and that will rather decrease mobility on the labour market.

“My hunch is, at this stage, that we may actually get some limited border controls that will then ripple down through the Balkans. Leading to quite a number of refugees actually getting stuck in Greece or in Turkey,” Wolff said.

  • Author: Andreas Liljeheden, Euranet Plus News Agency